Mayor Jenny Durkan's plan to invest $100 million in Black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) communities put stress on an already slim budget, not least of all because the plan didn't name a dedicated source of funding.
Instead of buying into Durkan's unfunded BIPOC community plan, which requires a mayor-assembled task force and several months of Seattle Process to distribute, on Monday the Seattle City Council released its newly-formed budget package. That package reallocated $70 million of Durkan's investment to housing, health, and community safety, and also revived programs Durkan placed on the chopping block. Durkan and her task force will still have $30 million.
Durkan made the commitment to invest $100 million in BIPOC communities over the summer after protests against police brutality and systemic racism called on her to defund the police. Instead of taking the $100 million from the Seattle Police Department budget as activists wanted, Durkan planned to use money from the new JumpStart payroll tax, the Uber and Lyft tax, and the city's general fund.
Finding a spare $100 million in a budget proposal that was already $12 million short complicated things for the city council, especially when vital services remained underfunded and the council needed JumpStart funds to stop budget cuts and provide COVID-19 relief. The $100 million community investment needed to be reimagined. Select Budget Committee Chair Teresa Mosqueda outlined some of the programs that will receive money from reshuffling Durkan's $100 million plan. Durkan acknowledged and accepted the change on Monday. In a statement, she described the council's amendments as a continuation of her "historic" plan but "through slightly different community-led processes."
Among the investments outlined by Mosqueda are $10 million for scaling up community safety and harm reduction programs, $500,000 to fund restorative justice programs in the Department of Education and Early Learning, and $18 million for the participatory budgeting process.
The biggest change is the $30 million that will restore funding to the Strategic Investment Fund, a dedicated fund for equity-focused real estate investment paid for with last year's Mercer Mega Block sale. Durkan cut that fund to use $30 million to plug budget holes. Without the funds, planned projects such as affordable development around South Seattle's Graham Street light-rail station could be stalled indefinitely.
The Mega Block sale was controversial to begin with. Progressive activists wanted to keep those public lands in public hands for public housing, but the city argued it could get more money for affordable housing units if they sold the land to developers and built elsewhere. Stripping the funds away after the fact felt unconscionable to these groups because in-the-works projects in mostly communities of color would end up stalled indefinitely. Katie Wilson with TRU told The Stranger her worst nightmare was having these funds used to fill budget holes because the money “disappears into the general fund and doesn’t move us forward.” At the end of October, the council put forward its own budget line item sponsored by Kshama Sawant to keep the $30 million intact.
Perhaps realizing the error in her cuts, Durkan even suggested last week that the council could use new money identified in an updated city revenue forecast to backfill the fund. The council is using that new revenue for other stuff like balancing the budget, funding other budget priorities, and adding money to refill the city's emergency reserves—something Mosqueda stressed as one of her goals during this budgeting process.
After Durkan's budget proposal, Seattle's rainy day and emergency funds collectively only held $3 million. With her new budget package, Mosqueda was able to boost that number by $32 million, bringing the total almost to where the city was before the 2008 recession.
"I feel really, really proud we were able to make those investments," Mosqueda said, "that’s how we’ll protect our most vulnerable communities next year."
Council members will be briefed on the budget package starting on Tuesday. Then, they'll be able to make amendments. A final budget vote is scheduled for Nov. 23.