In the next few days, the Seattle City Council will be churning out final details of the city’s biennial (2023-24) budget. The sausage-making won’t be pretty. The November revenue forecast showed that councilmembers must contend with a giant shortfall – some $145 million — between estimated income and urgent city needs.
On Monday, Budget Chair Teresa Mosqueda unveiled her proposed plan for the $7.4 billion budget. She called her package “a not feel-good budget.” As expected, Mosqueda proposes trimming the mayor’s proposed public-safety budget. Her plan leaves in place bonuses for hiring 30 new officers, but it reduces the number of unfilled police positions from 200 to 120. That’s a large hit for the department, leaving police staffing far less flexible.
Mosqueda’s package didn’t curtail funding for the mayor’s United Care Team, which cleans up and removes illegal encampments. However, it left parking enforcement officers in the Seattle Transportation Department rather than (as Mayor Bruce Harrell proposed) returning that unit to the police department — a move that would save $8 million in administrative expenses. Mosqueda also gutted the mayor’s plan for graffiti removal and slashed his proposal to invest in gun-shot-detection technology.
The Mosqueda budget would fund full inflationary wage hikes for human-service workers at an added cost of $7.4 million. The increases were something the mayor’s proposal failed to do—never mind his vote supporting adjusted wages when he served on the council. Mosqueda also proposes spending an added $3 million in response to student demands for more mental health providers following the Ingraham High School shooting.
Although she approved using JumpStart taxes to fill the revenue shortfall, the budget chair was unwilling to change the council ordinance that restricts those funds to council-specified priorities except during revenue shortfalls.
Despite all these alternative proposals, Mosqueda’s balancing package did show there has been better teamwork and increased cooperation between the second (City Council offices) and seventh (Mayor’s office) floors at City Hall than in the past.
In the next few days, the City Council will be discussing the 100 amendments to the budget that councilmembers proposed in October. As usual, there’s no shortage of these proposals. Councilmember Tammy Morales is seeking $2.5 million for clean-energy pre-apprenticeship programs, while Councilmember Dan Strauss wants a chunk for seaplane public safety awareness and Councilmember Andrew Lewis is asking $50,000 to remove predacious fish from Lake Washington and $3 million to attract conventions to Seattle.
Council President Debora Juarez is looking for $200,000 to provide therapeutic services for survivors of commercial sexual exploitation, domestic abuse, and sexual assault. Councilmember Kshama Sawant wants $150,000 to help the local community plan a Garfield High School superblock, while Councilmember Alex Pedersen proposes $1.5 million for 45th Street bridge crossing improvements and Councilmember Sara Nelson wants $2 million to fund a pilot program for addiction treatment. Not to be outdone, budget chair Mosqueda is asking $120,000 for the on-line MLK Labor Council’s hiring hall.
Not content simply to propose amendments, Councilmembers Pedersen and Nelson issued a Seattle Times op-ed demanding the city make faster progress in reducing crime and homelessness. The authors of the op-ed cited a survey showing that 70 percent of the citizens believe the quality of life in Seattle has gone downhill. Contending that the city “faces a fork in the road,” the two councilmembers are adamant about the return of parking enforcement to the SPD and implementation of addiction treatment and the highly controversial gun-shot detection service.
Still it’s highly unlikely that those insistent demands and few if any of the proposed adjustments (many of them worthy) will alter the basic balancing package. The city’s financial situation is too shaky and, by state law, city budgets must balance. In the wise words of a former city councilmember, “A tight budget is one that can’t cover every councilmember’s pet project.”