In a press conference today saying bye to Seattle Police Department Chief Carmen Best, Mayor Jenny Durkan announced her veto of the Seattle City Council's 2020 rebalanced budget proposal. The budget proposal attempted to right-size the around $400 million-sized hole that COVID-19 drilled into city coffers this year. In doing so, the council shaved off $3.5 million of the remaining SPD budget for 2020 and mercy killed the Human Services Department's controversial Navigation Team.
Durkan, who does not have the power to veto individual items in the council's budget proposal, will veto the whole plan, which she received on Aug. 14. She also vetoed the $3 million the council allocated for a community budget process and $14 million for community programs like youth-diversion in the budget package.
The council is supposed to go on recess starting this coming Monday until after Labor Day. Many council members started their recess after meetings on Wednesday, council staff said. According to the city charter, the council has 30 business days to sustain or overturn the veto. Durkan said that the veto came today because she only had until Monday to make it. Since the time period to make a move on the veto is longer than the two-week recess, she said "it shouldn't be a problem."
Despite throwing out the whole budget and making it clear that she did not agree with SPD cuts, the Navigation Team elimination on top of a tense summer, or draining more money from the city's rainy day fund, Durkan is optimistic about finding "common ground" with the council going forward.
She celebrated the common ground they had already found. Today, Durkan announced a plan to fund COVID-19 relief across the city by $45 million across 2020 and 2021. What she failed to point out was that that compromise was born out of a mayoral veto. Durkan vetoed the JumpStart Seattle spending plan that included $86 million paid out of the rainy day fund in COVID-19 relief. The money borrowed would be repaid by the JumpStart tax in 2021.
While debating whether to overturn or sustain that veto, council members like Andrew Lewis and Alex Pedersen indicated that they were not confident that the mayor would act on the spending plan if the two branches of government did not come to an agreement. The veto, ultimately, was overturned but the amount of money the plan would use for relief was reduced in order to capitulate to Durkan.
Mike McGinn, who took over as mayor in the middle of the 2008 recession's fallout, told The Stranger in an interview last week that Durkan is not making "compelling policy and budget responses" when it comes to the crises at hand. Meanwhile, the council "is seizing the initiative and making significant proposals," McGinn said.
The way she's handled the budget in particular, McGinn said, is "norm-shattering." And not in a good way.
"Everyone’s saying you can’t force the mayor to spend money," McGinn continued. "Technically that's correct but it's a violation of the norms of budget process. I think we have a mayor who’s not acknowledging the role of the council in the process here and playing a game of budgetary chicken."
It seems to be working.
In a statement, Council President Lorena Gonzalez said she was "disappointed" about Durkan's veto. And while the council could overturn the veto with a three-fifths majority, Gonzalez told The C Is For Crank that the council hopes to "come to some agreement with the mayor around a rebalanced package."
What and when that will be remains to be seen. The council is meant to have their out of office auto-replies ready and raring to go for two weeks come Monday.