Defund the police? An Amazon Tax? Cleaning up after COVID-19's mess? It's all happening at the Seattle City Council's budget meeting today at 2 p.m. It's gonna be a long one.
The meeting is the first council budget committee meeting on "rebalancing" the 2020 budget to account for gaping budget holes left by the COVID-19 crisis. The process will patch up what could be a $300 million budget hole, determine where to spend federal dollars, and consider Amazon Tax legislation that's back on the table.
The meeting today will tackle the Amazon Tax legislation which was shelved by some COVID-19 legal speed bumps. Also, budget committee chair Teresa Mosqueda promised that she would re-examine the Seattle Police Department budget, a process that would start in this meeting and could result in cuts to the department's 2020 budget as well as its budget moving forward. There's supposed to be a deep dive into that and a breakdown by a City Budget Office analyst this afternoon.
However, it hinges on some documents from the mayor and CBO that the council hasn't received yet. As of 10 a.m this morning, the council hadn't gotten the rebalancing budget package from the mayor's office and the CBO.
Before the council starts any budget process, the mayor “proposes” her own budget. That's the norm each year during the budget season (happy holidays to those who celebrate). Durkan's proposed budget was supposed to be delivered to the council on June 9, council staff has confirmed to me. The CBO was meant to brief the council on what's in it.
The mayor's office has not answered my questions about what is causing the hold up or whether or not it will get to the council before the budget meeting starts. UPDATE: Kamaria Hightower, a representative with Durkan's office, said, "Over the last week, the Mayor has heard from many in the community on what they want to see reflected in the City budget. The Mayor’s office will transmit a rebalancing proposal for the 2020 budget as early as next week but doesn’t have a definitive timeline."
Part of those changes could be the "$100 million in community-driven programs for Black youths and adults" she promised in a press conference on Sunday.
It's especially important to have the information on the budget proposal since the council could make up for COVID-19 shortages—like sales taxes and B&O taxes which make up the bulk of the funding for Seattle programs—through cuts to SPD's 2020 budget. While the agenda for today's budget meeting won't be impacted, next week's agenda very well could be.
Today, the council will still get the low-down on what makes up SPD's budget and can ask questions like how much the cops spend on things like rubber bullets and tear gas.
Regardless of what happens on those issues, we're in for a lively debate about council members Kshama Sawant's and Tammy Morales' Amazon Tax legislation, otherwise known as a business payroll tax. There had already been two informational meetings on the legislation (which would put a 1.3 percent tax on the payrolls of the top 2 percent of businesses in Seattle) back in April. Council president Lorena Gonzalez, however, stalled the conversations right before the last vote over fears meetings would violate Gov. Jay Inslee's proclamation that curtailed the Open Public Meetings Act during the COVID-19 crisis (much to Sawant's chagrin).
That's a long way of saying that the council members never got to hash out the legislation amongst themselves; so far they've only listened to analysts droll on about the ins and outs of the policy. But now the legal issues are cleared up and the dialogue can continue. Today, they can fight! Today they can say "fuck this Amazon Tax!" or "I love this Amazon Tax!" And Alex Pedersen can flex his anti-business-tax muscles to his heart's content.