Last month Mayor Jenny Durkan vetoed the Seattle City Council's rebalanced 2020 budget proposal. You know, the budget that addressed nearly $400 million in COVID-19 deficits and that began to address the issue of defunding the police? Durkan said no thanks and cut the whole thing. That choice set up the council's special meeting today, which is the last day they can act on the veto.
To overturn, or to sustain, that is the question.
The council needs at least seven votes to overturn the veto. There are nine council members. Though the council unanimously passed the budget, several council members seem poised to cave to the stonewalling Durkan calls "compromise" and flip their vote.
Conceding to Durkan—who has no more cards to play after using her veto—would amount to a last-ditch effort at saving face largely to prevent TV news from running with the narrative of an uncompromising council full of radicals who refuse to "bring people to the table," etc., which they'll likely do anyway.
Yesterday, Council President Lorena Gonzalez laid out a substitute budget that would serve as a "compromise" between the council and the mayor in the event that the council votes to maintain Durkan's veto. Gonzalez, who will vote to overturn the veto today, called the bill "an attempt to move us forward" since "we've had an impasse with the mayor publicly and privately."
The compromise budget, which the council will pass if they don't override the veto, contains none of their original changes to SPD's budget and does away with cuts to the navigation team, the homeless sweep squad the council eliminated in their budget.
Back in July, seven out of nine council members said they supported defunding the police by 50%. That number changed as budget rebalancing wore on. The budget only cut around $3 million—or less than 1%—of SPD's 2020 budget. But, council members indicated, those cuts laid the groundwork for bigger cuts in 2021. Depending on the vote today, that progress could be eliminated.
Decriminalize Seattle and King County Now, the groups pushing the council to reevaluate policing in the city and to trim SPD's budget, were disappointed.
"The gutted bill follows a pattern of the Executive branch bleeding into the Legislative branch, with Mayor Durkan reshaping legislation that Council has already passed," Decriminalize Seattle and King County Equity Now said in a joint statement. "This new bill represents an utter capitulation to the Mayor, who has shamelessly not moved from her anti-Black, pro-police position."
We urge @SeattleCouncil to stand for Black lives and to restore badly-needed balance to the legislative/executive relationship. We ask them not to flip-flop on one of the most important votes of their careers.
— King County Equity Now (Official) (@KCEquityNow) September 21, 2020
Over the summer, the council and the mayor butted heads constantly. In countless meetings, the public watched the council deliberate and parse through different aspects of SPD's budget. Then they'd watch Durkan disrupt all that progress in her press conferences, spinning a narrative that the council "didn't have a plan" and wasn't consulting with then-SPD Chief Carmen Best. It's been one big misinformation campaign.
That strategy weighed on the council. They became more cautious in their actions, spelling out moves and votes to avoid things being taken out of context. The most significant example of this was when Councilmember Lisa Herbold changed course the morning before the final budget vote on an amendment that would lower Best's salary. Best resigned the next day despite Herbold's efforts.
A similar song played out during the head tax negotiations. Back then, the council unanimously passed progressive legislation that the mayor signed, and then the mayor reneged after pressure from business interests. Though the mayor was a key player in that backtracking, the council received the ire for "waffling" and "not having a plan" (even though they did!) because the council mostly operates in the public sphere. The mayor does her decision-making in private.
Without consultation or a sniff of compromise, Durkan wielded her veto power. First she vetoed the JumpStart Seattle spending plan that detailed $86 million in COVID-19 relief money garnered from a new high-earner payroll tax that Durkan refused to sign into law. (Durkan celebrated a much smaller compromise COVID-19 relief plan, but she still hasn't made that a law). She then cancelled the budget days before the council's summer recess under the pretense that increased gun violence in the city meant that Seattle could not afford to eliminate SPD positions or trim SPD's budget. The council outlined $4 million in the budget to mitigate gun violence. Those funds were eliminated in the new compromise legislation that will pass if the veto overturn fails.
Going into the vote today, Gonzalez, Teresa Mosqueda, Tammy Morales, and Kshama Sawant will vote to overturn the veto. Alex Pedersen and Debora Juarez will most likely vote to "sustain." Lisa Herbold, Dan Strauss, and Andrew Lewis are maybes.
Sawant said she was perplexed about the compromise bill discussion yesterday. To her, talking about that bill indicated that the veto was going to fail. She urged council members to come out and say where they stood.
"You do have an obligation to state publicly where you stand now," Sawant said. "It’s not correct of council members to surprise members of the public on which way they’re going to vote. On behalf of members of the public, I’m asking council members to say where they stand."
None of the "maybe" votes clarified their positions. The public rallied online to sway these votes through emails, phone calls, and lots of tagging on Twitter. Strauss and Lewis, two of the newest council members only in their first year on the dais, were the main focus of these efforts. This vote, people argued, would dictate the rest of their time on council. Will they side with the council's budget or the mayor's veto?
Today’s vote isn’t simply a vote to potentially overturn a veto from Durkan. For @CMAndrewJLewis, @CMDanStrauss, and @Lisa_Herbold it is a vote to keep their seat or lose any future re-election campaigns.
I will work as hard as I can to unseat my district CM if they sustain.
— James From D7 ☂️ (@MinusPeach) September 22, 2020
We'll find out where they landed at today's special meeting at 3 p.m. Watch it here.