If Mayor Mike McGinn gets his way, starting next year you'll have to feed parking meters on Sunday. Those meters will also be hungry until 8:00 p.m.—two hours later than the current 6:00 p.m. cutoff—on every other day of the week. And if you're parking downtown, the rate will go up by $1.50 per hour.
These fee hikes (and millions of dollars in cuts to city services) are all part of a budget that McGinn proposed on September 27 to help bridge the city's $67 million budget gap next year. On the positive side, the budget "does not rely on any general taxes, nor does it use any reserves," McGinn said in a budget address at the Rainier Beach Community Center. Using a pile of charts and budget descriptions, he explained how his proposed budget calculates methods for maintaining most city services (even adding 30 police officers on patrol next year) while still lowering the bottom line. The most notable proposed cut includes eliminating 294 city positions. Of those, 214 are currently filled and would result in layoffs on January 4.
However, the final decision on these and dozens of other changes—increasing library fines, hiking utility taxes, closing seven neighborhood service centers—rests with the Seattle City Council, which has clashed with the mayor all year. Now the budget, during a year of strain caused by severe revenue shortfalls, will serve as another battlefield for the power struggle at City Hall.
For instance, the same day McGinn unveiled his budget, the council announced an agreement to let the city withhold $8.5 million headed to the Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI) for several years, in order to augment city finances. McGinn had rejected the idea a week before, calling instead to permanently retain $7 million headed to MOHAI or terminate the city's subsidy of a new museum at South Lake Union. But Council Member Nick Licata, who negotiated the deal, explains, "Our problem is that we need immediate public services in 2011 and 2012. His approach would not meet that objective."
In other words, the council—expected to approve the MOHAI proposal on October 4—has an $8.5 million modification for the budget right out of the gate.
"This is a budget gimmick, pure and simple," McGinn said in a statement, calling it a "loan" that wouldn't help the city's systemic budget problems. "It's no wonder our budget situation is so bad." That wasn't McGinn's only dig at the council. In a budget overview supplied to reporters, McGinn took repeated shots at the council for using a rainy day fund last year instead of making systemic changes to the budget.
Meanwhile, the council is ready to fight other aspects of McGinn's proposal. For example, the mayor suggests raising the taxes on pay parking lots by 5 percent—unlikely, considering the council just voted to raise them 2.5 percent. Nor does the council appear ready to raise certain utility taxes again, as McGinn proposes. The council did that last year. And perhaps most contentious, McGinn asked the council to cut 9.5 percent of its own budget (identical to a cut in the mayor's office).
The question is what the council will throw back when it finalizes the finances in November. To that end, McGinn made a plea in an address to the full council. "Now it is time for the city council to make adjustments where necessary," he said. "Please don't give us an unfunded mandate or a work plan without the resources to pay for it."