As he faces increasing pressure over the city's homelessness crisis and police reform, Mayor Ed Murray delivered his annual budget address to the Seattle City Council today, launching the council into two months of budget deliberations.
The speech—which included funding promises ranging from extended hours at community centers to electric car charging stations and a new streetcar—focused largely on the biggest issues facing the city: homelessness, education, police reform, and race. Murray promised to hire 200 new police officers, continue pursuing police reform, and spend $12 million in new money fighting homelessness.
Inside city council chambers, many of Murray’s pledges won applause from a crowd of his invited guests, but throughout the speech, the low hum of protest could be heard from downstairs. "Let us in!" chanted protesters in the lobby of City Hall, who were not allowed into chambers because of space constraints (more on that below).
In the speech, Murray pledged to press forward on police reform while also defending positions that have recently put him at odds with anti-police activists.
Murray proposes hiring 200 new police officers, a move opposed by Block the Bunker, a group of anti-police activists who’ve taken over and shut down recent city council meetings. He also said the city will create a new civilian police accountability office and make the Community Police Commission “permanent and the strongest in our City’s history.”
"I have come to understand how a precinct building in this city could become a potent symbol embodying the divisions of these difficult times," Murray said, referencing the controversial North Precinct. "We need not choose between reforming the police relationships with the community and having sufficient resources to respond to and investigate crime. We are obligated to do both. And we will."
As he has done in several speeches like this, Murray addressed racial disparities directly, in part by promising new education initiatives.
“White America has work to do,” he said. “Black lives matter. And my administration is committed to addressing disparities in education, youth employment, the criminal justice system, and more.”
On education, Murray pledged to triple public preschool classrooms by 2018 and undertake several education programs focused on racial inequities. He proposes expanding “My Brother’s Keeper,” a mentoring program for African American male middle school students, increase slots in summer learning programs, and expanding efforts to improve attendance and behavior in schools.
To address homelessness, Murray mostly reiterated promises he’s made before. He doubled down on “Pathways Home,” his administration’s plan to revamp the city's homelessness funding system. He pledged to open a 24-hour homeless shelter and spend money on programs to help prevent homelessness. According to Murray’s office, the budget will include $12 million in new homelessness funding, but that total includes some money from the housing levy, which voters approved last month.
Murray also took a dig at Republican
dipshit State Senator Mark Miloscia, who has been on an anti-Seattle jag in his run for state auditor:
But let me say what is not helpful.
Recently, a state senator from outside Seattle paid our city a visit and claimed that Seattle needs, quote “adult supervision” unquote, around the issue of homelessness.
I know state senators. I like state senators. I used to be a state senator. But I do not remember ever seeing a state senator go into another jurisdiction and tell them what to do, much less say they need adult supervision.
This city, this Council, and this Mayor may not fully agree with each other on this issue, and at times the issue is messy and at times we are frustrated with each other.
But Senator, this city, this Council, this Mayor are doing serious work to address a humanitarian crisis that all of us, including you, are responsible for.
In less high-profile efforts, Murray also pledged to extended hours at community centers, improve the city's 911 system, fund electric vehicle charging stations for the public and city employees, use federal and city dollars to fund the Center City Connector streetcar, and double the Office of Labor Standards. (The OLS enforces the city's labor laws; Murray has still not specified how he'll fund that staffing increase.)
He promised to put "significant" money into reserves and increase the use of “data, best practices, and common sense” to make city government more efficient.
“If 2014 was the year of the minimum wage, 2015 the year of housing affordability, and 2016 is the year of education, it is my intention to make 2017 the year of good governance,” Murray said. (He seemed unaware of how tone deaf it sounds to write off last year as “the year of housing affordability.” Glad that problem is done and solved!)
In coming months, the council will fine-tune the mayor's budget proposal and council members will propose additions and subtractions.
Backlash to the speech—and the heightened security surrounding it—was swift. The chambers where Murray delivered the speech today were filled entirely city staff, guests invited by the mayor’s office, and media. Members of the public lined up in the lobby ahead of the speech, but were not allowed into chambers because of space constraints, preventing them from protesting or disrupting during the speech. Some said later they had been in line since 11 or 11:30 am.
After the mayor left council chambers and the council took its regular public comment, several members of Socialist Alternative criticized Murray for the lack of access to his speech and for a budget they said doesn’t do enough to increase funding for affordable housing.
"Shame on all of you for keeping the people out," said Socialist Alternative member Jess Spear.
Murray spokesperson Benton Strong defended the strategy. "There were many members of the public watching the speech in the chamber from communities all over the city," Strong said, referring to people who had been specifically invited by Murray's office, "and it was a great opportunity to see the mayor lay out his vision for the year ahead."
Council Member Kshama Sawant, a member of Socialist Alternative, called Murray's budget “a mostly business-as-usual, status quo budget that will do little to address the massive inequality in Seattle.”
“The Mayor, in his budget speech, said that he wants 2017 to be the year of ‘good governance,’” Sawant said. “It is outrageous that his announcement comes in a meeting where the city council, apparently under direction from the mayor, has restricted public access to city council chambers with not a single member of the public allowed in.”