After nearly two months of tweaking the Mayor’s proposal, the Seattle City Council approved its own version of the 2022 budget in an 8 to 1 vote Monday afternoon. The big-ticket items in the $7.1 billion package included $355 million for the Seattle Police Department, $194 million to fund affordable housing, and authorization for up to $100 million in bonds to fix Seattle bridges.
The council faced a number of hurdles in its efforts to balance the budget: Mayor Jenny Durkan’s overly optimistic budget spent more money than the City actually had, gave the cops more money for vacant positions than the department could realistically fill in a year, and used one-time federal COVID relief funds rather than the more reliable (for now) JumpStart payroll tax funds to pay for badly needed affordable housing.
If not for the JumpStart money, Mosqueda argued, the challenging task of balancing Durkan’s budget would have been all the more challenging, as the payroll tax accounted for 3.3% of the City’s total funds.
True to the intent of the tax, the council authorized spending over $90 million from JumpStart to develop, preserve, and monitor affordable multifamily rental housing. They hope the money will help the City hit its goal of funding 4,000 affordable housing units per year. (According to a 2018 report, King County needed 156,000 more affordable housing units built yesterday, and they need to build 88,000 affordable homes by 2040 just to keep low-income people from paying more than 30% of their income on rent.) The council also used the payroll tax to fund over $6 million to provide loans and grants to low-income first-time homebuyers, and nearly $14 million to address displacement and to promote equitable access to housing, education, food, and jobs.
Conversely, Durkan wanted to give $50 million for affordable housing from the one-time federal Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Fund (CLFR). Mosqueda said that strategy was a bad idea for two reasons: Using that funding source would “rip away” $50 million in affordable housing investments when the Mayor goes to draw up the budget next year, and that instability would have turned off developers and lenders and thus “lessened the opportunity to build housing” in 2022.
Neither of those issues prevented the council from using the one-time funding to deal with other important and ongoing problems, though. In the budget, the council allocated $22 million from the CLFR to address chronic homelessness, which became more visible during the pandemic thanks to restrictions on shetler capacity. That money will fund a smattering of services, including the HOPE team.
After approving the budget, Councilmember Lisa Herbold reminded the viewing public that these extremely useful JumpStart funds are not guaranteed in the future. The Seattle Chamber of Commerce continues to fight the tax in court. So far, City Attorney Pete Holmes has been successful in defending the payroll tax, but incoming Republican City Attorney Ann Davison will inherit the case, and oral arguments will proceed under her direction. If the defense is unsuccessful, JumpStart dies and the new Mayor would have to make cuts of over $200 million. Herbold added that such a scenario could even create a deficit in the 2021 budget, which used a loan the City expects to pay back with JumpStart funds.
Mosqueda said the council couldn’t have balanced the budget without the JumpStart tax Durkan so adamantly opposed. She added that Durkan has only “tried to distract” from JumpStart’s success by criticizing the council for reining her in on increasing the police budget.
Speaking of the police, though activists pressured the council to cut SPD’s budget by 17% this year, the council only ended up cutting less than 2% compared to last year.
Back in September, Durkan initially proposed $365 million for cops, up from $362 million last year, when the defund movement won a 20% compromise cut with the council in the 2021 budget. Mosqueda’s balancing package countered Durkan’s offer with a $10.8 million cut to her proposal, which Durkan made a show of hating. After fielding several options, the council ultimately approved $355 million for SPD’s 2022 budget, which is very similar to Mosqueda’s original proposal in her balancing package.
The council’s plan reduces Durkan’s proposed increase, but they bent over backwards to point out the absence of cuts to SPD officers, their salaries, or the department's hiring plan.
Councilmember Kshama Sawant, who voted “no” on the budget, noted that the police budget negotiations revealed “a real contrast from last year.”
“The same police budget was described by the same council members as being on track to defund the police by 50%, which was not true,” she said.
Sawant said she only saw marginal material change, as the decreases in police funding came from the council moving the cost of the 911 call center and parking enforcement to other departments.
Though Sawant was not so thrilled, the Solidarity Budget, a community proposal signed by more than 200 progressive organizations, sent a press release to celebrate the relative shrinkage. The Solidarity Budget initially formed to lobby for a 50% cut to SPD’s budget following the summer of protests for Black lives. The council didn’t nearly go that far, but Angélica Cházaro of Decriminalize Seattle said the Solidarity Budget organizers celebrate “every penny that leaves harmful policing practices.” She added that the coalition will “be back for more.”
The Solidarity Budget organizers also praised tiny abolitionist victories: $4 million to address gun violence, $500,000 for mental health services in schools, the expansion of the Community Safety and Communications Center, and a civilian 911 dispatch center whose funding grew from $17.9 million in the 2021 budget to $22 million in 2022.
Durkan will likely make a fuss about the council skimming off the top of the police budget. A spokesperson from her office said, “The Mayor is assessing the continued impacts of council’s continued cuts to public safety at a time of gun violence, increasing 911 response times and record numbers of officer departures.”
Ahead of the vote to approve the budget, Mosqueda expressed frustration with the Mayor’s behavior during the budgeting process.
“The Mayor has a political agenda to try to make herself look like she's the only adult in the room,” she said.
She added, “I think what has been incredibly dangerous and destructive to trust in government has been the unwillingness of the Mayor to follow statute. We, the legislative branch, pass law. We pass public policy, and we pass the budget. It's the executive branch's responsibility to implement, and time and time again we have seen her not implement what has been passed into law.”
After this typical tension between the Mayor and the council, the budget now awaits Durkan’s signature.