On Tuesday, the City Council began discussing approximately 100 proposed amendments to Mayor Bruce Harrell’s budget. With two more days slated for discussion, the meeting didn’t cover some of the budget season’s most hot-button issues; namely, pay cuts to human service providers, the implementation of whack gun surveillance software, and the cops practically bathing in the City’s money.
But that’s not to say they did nothing. The council proposed plenty of amendments that sparked more than just routine displays of gratitude from council members. Below you’ll find a handful of the most interesting ones, most of which seek to fund the stuff the City promised to fund, rather than some feel-good nonsense of dubious value.
Don’t Mess With JumpStart
The Mayor asked to make permanent changes to how the City can spend the JumpStart payroll tax, the short-term rental (AirBnB) tax, and the transportation network company (Uber/Lyft) tax, which are all earmarked to fund certain priorities, mainly affordable housing.
But JumpStart matriarch and Budget Chair Teresa Mosqueda proposed an amendment to reject his proposal because, Jesus Christ, we cannot keep ignoring JumpStart funding priorities just so the Mayor can use the cash to fill the deficit without sacrificing thousands for dumb programs. (That’s my gloss, not Mosqueda’s.)
Mosqueda isn’t totally playing hardball here. Her amendment would allow for some temporary flexibility in JumpStart spending–partly because the tax brought in more money than expected this year, and partly because the City NEEDS it. But she wants to “realign” spending plans so that these taxes pay for the programs they were designed to fund.
To illustrate the Mayor’s fuckery, she listed a bunch of non-priority areas such as the “Seattle Jobs Center,” transit staffing, and his Office’s volunteer day, which he funded with JumpStart money. That’s when the council started to split. Council Members Sara Nelson and Alex Pedersen got testy, arguing that they wanted to fund the Mayor’s priorities, even if it meant giving into Harrell’s weird spending plan.
Mosqueda clarified over and over that she didn't want to defund the items on her list, but instead find new funding or else decide as a council to approve Harrell’s whacky spending. Still not clear if everyone on the council knows what the fuck is going on, but the conversation previews which members like Harrell’s bastardization of JumpStart and which do not.
Tax the Wealthy Corporations
But also, fuck realignment. Fuck budget cuts. Council Member Kshama Sawant said the council could just increase the payroll tax and pay for “all the human needs in the City” instead of picking and choosing which to leave out.
At the end of the committee meeting, she proposed a walk-on amendment to increase the revenue from the JumpStart tax by $95 million, which matches the amount Harrell took from JumpStart.
For many other budget items, other council members asked questions, gushed with gratitude, or asked to sign on as co-sponsor. But for this amendment? Crickets.
Sawant has proposed increases to JumpStart in the past, but they don’t really get much traction. But this time, despite the crickets in the meeting, in an interview with The Stranger earlier this month Mosqueda didn’t totally dismiss her proposal. Nor did she dismiss Sawant’s request to use $3.5 million of JumpStart revenue to pay for every abortion in town. So, basically, don’t write off Sawant. The lazy liberals could squeeze more cash out of big business if they wanted to.
But What About the Low-Income and/or Gay White Kids?
Okay, this amendment sounds a lot like Council Member Tammy Morales defunding public education, but I promise it is not. Just stick with me.
Basically, the Mayor wants to spend a few of the extra millions from a City education levy on the Seattle Promise program, which provides high schoolers with up to 90 credits of free college education at the Seattle community colleges.
That sounds all fine and dandy, except for the fact that the proposal violates the council’s decision to use the levy money on early education and K-12. In a statement of legislative intent (SLI), Morales asked the Department of Early Education and Learning (DEEL) to draft a proposal for how the City should reinvest the extra cash into the appropriate areas. You know, staying consistent with past decisions.
Morales also expressed disinterest in expanding the Seattle Promise program right now, arguing that it seems to serve more white students than students of color.
Council Member Debora Juarez, who helped design the program, defended it as an asset for low-income students. She said the program would need a few more years before the council could see if it was “reaching” children of color.
As a compromise, Morales asked DEEL to draft legislation to prioritize enrollment of students of color and other marginalized students in the Seattle Promise program. But that request didn't seem to fully squash the beef.
Juarez said, “I would just note, though, that there are a lot of, as you shared, white kids that are low-income, that are LGBTQ, that are first-time college students. And so, as an original proponent of this program … I hope we can keep an open mind that the key issue here was to get every child in the city of Seattle to have two years of free college for those children that never had an opportunity.”
As negotiations continue, we’ll see if Morales can sway Juarez on this, though she might not need to. Council Member Lisa Herbold and Mosqueda already signed on as co-sponsors to Morales’s amendment and accompanying SLIs.
For the Love of God, Invest in Labor Standards
Herbold wants to spend a little more than a million dollars over the course of two years to pay for three full-time employees to enforce her Pay Up policy, which will ensure that *most* gig workers earn minimum wage.
In doing so, she is also righting Harrell’s budgetary wrong. Unlike other departments, City law requires the Mayor to fulfill the budget request from the Office of Labor Standards, and Herbold said the Mayor failed to sufficiently fund the OLS and its “trailblazing work.” Boo.
Not to start drama, but if there’s any department the Mayor has beef with, it would be OLS. Right before Seattle voters elected him last November, Harrell got slapped with a last-minute ethics complaint. Rich Stoltz, a local advocate for immigrants, accused Harrell of trying to meddle with OLS’s wage theft investigation of The Royal Esquire Club, a private social club for Black men, for which Harrell served as board chair.
Regardless of whether Harrell ignored his legal duties as Mayor because he has some vendetta, or because the City faces a deficit, or because he straight-up forgot, the council will likely fill this request. Herbold already found supporters in Council Member Andrew Lewis and Mosqueda.
I’m Not Saying It's I-135. But It’s “Sorta” I-135
Morales made one nonprofit very happy with her proposal to hire four full-time employees to staff a Municipal Housing Administration team within the Office of Housing. That team would find land to acquire for the development of affordable housing. The City would own the land and the buildings, but it would offer long-term and permanently affordable leases to community organizations who want to manage the building.
It's a strategy to decommodify housing, and it sounds an awful lot like the local initiative from House Our Neighbors! (HON) to establish a social housing authority. In fact, Council Member Nelson asked in the meeting if the amendment would just realize HON’s initiative, I-135.
The answer is, as Lewis said in a text, “sorta.” Both the amendment and I-135 take a crack at social housing. The difference is that I-135 would allow the City’s social housing authority to be the landlord of the property, not just the owner.
If I-135 passes, Morales’s amendment would also help the authority thrive, fulfilling the initiative’s ask for seed money. But the amendment does not hinge on I-135 passing. So, if I-135 fails at the ballot in February, then the City will still have this team, adding a non-market solution to the housing crisis.
Since the amendment is so freaking similar to I-135, I asked Morales’s Office why they didn’t just go all the way and set up their own development authority. A staffer said they wanted to leave it up to the people, since I-135 was already on the ballot. Also, they said they tried to introduce a similar amendment last cycle, but no one even seconded the amendment. Damn.
But times have changed. Now, the social housing amendment already has two co-sponsors in Lewis and Pedersen. And maybe you could give some credit to HON. The campaign worked hard to educate the public on the topic. Maybe they also swayed some council members along the way. Morales said in an email that she will be voting yes on I-135.
If you made it this far into reading about the budget, then good for you! I’ll be back to catch you up on what goes down for the rest of the week. XOXO