- City of Seattle
- More money for homeless kids, more money for bike share justice, faster minimum wage hikes, and more money for wage enforcement.
On Friday, the city council unanimously voted for a $4.8 billion budget package to get Seattle through the next two years, adding more than $8 million in funding to Mayor Ed Murray's version. What's in it for you and me?
A lot of great stuff, it turns out, even if some questionable things got proposed—and rejected—along the way.
The council's modifications to a dozen specific budget areas, taken together, represent a surprisingly human-centric document of financial planning—a reflection, in large part, of council lefty Nick Licata's role as budget chair and his prioritization of human services. Among the highlights:
- Nearly $1 million in funding for homeless services. Tim Harris of Real Change called the funding "astonishing and encouraging news." This includes $100,000 in funding for homeless encampments, marking the first time the council, long hostile to the camps, has embraced them as an important stopgap. Sally Clark opposed the encampment funding, and Tim Burgess joined her, taking a fringe view that rest of the council members disagreed with in a 7-2 vote on Friday. Clark, Harris said on his Facebook page, "has once again shown that she is out of step with the communities she represents and needs to be replaced."
- $150,000 in funding for YouthCare. Clark's record on poverty isn't all bad, however. "I wanted to get more for YouthCare, to be honest," she told me after the budget package passed. The $150K in YouthCare funding, which Clark proposed, makes up for the loss of a federal grant. Clark says she wanted to get the group more money, beyond maintaining existing funding, so it could expand and hire an outreach manager who could be a regular presence at Westlake Center or Cal Anderson Park.
- Investigating a tax on millionaires. Close observers of the council might remember that back in the summer, when Nick Licata and Kshama Sawant were pushing fruitlessly for a more progressive tax funding measure for buses, Tom Rasmussen told Sawant he disagreed with her Metro proposal, but was excited by her idea for a tax on millionaires. Rasmussen followed up on that remark in this budget. He jumped on as the crucial third co-sponsor, with Licata and Sawant, of a budget proviso that asks city lawyers to assess the feasibility of imposing an excise tax on local millionaires.
- Standing up for low wage workers: As I noted on Friday, the council disregarded lobbying by the mayor, as well as reservations expressed by Sally Clark, and voted to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour for all city employees in 2015 rather than over the next three years. Licata also oversaw the addition of $1 million in funding to the new Office of Labor Standards to fight wage theft and other labor violations through community outreach.
- Racial justice: Responding to protests against King County's plan to build a new juvenile jail, the council added $50,000 in funding for the Office of Civil Rights to carry out a racial impact assessment that could change the jail's design for the better. The council also funded Career Bridge, a program run by the Urban League that links men of color (who may have been formerly incarcerated) with jobs and assistance, to the tune of $400,000. Last year, the council balked at such funding under then-budget chair Tim Burgess. On another racial justice front: the council added $50,000 to help Pronto Cycle Share, which currently serves whiter, richer areas, to expand into Southeast Seattle.
In short, budget chair Nick Licata and the rest of the council took Murray's budget and dragged it leftward, both filling in gaps—the $15 minimum wage next year for city employees, for example, or restoring funding for the downtown Urban Rest Stop—and making significant additions of their own.
In an interview today, Licata refused to take much credit for any of this. "I find that I'm more effective when I'm not shining a light on myself," he said. He praised the mayor and the council for working together, and volunteered that Sawant was "probably the most helpful" in offering what he called "aggressive" budget amendments that were able to make it into the end product.
(Sawant's most aggressive idea—of slashing council and mayoral salaries by $50,000 each to raise $500,000 to fund shelter beds for LGBTQ homeless youth, offered at her People's Budget Forum—failed to gain any traction.)
Speaking frankly, Licata said, the council members are "also thinking about their own futures" ahead of next year's first-ever district elections, which will force them all to run at once. "I think they wanted to show that they were engaged."
This week, council staffers are taking the council's decisions from Friday and codifying them into a final budget document. Licata said he expects a unanimous vote to approve the budget when the full council considers it next Monday.