After considering Mayor Bruce Harrell's budget proposal and nearly 200 amendments from council members, yesterday the council approved a budget broken into three parts: Cared For & Housed, Connected & Resilient, Healthy & Safe.
With those priorities in mind, the council made "historic" investments into affordable housing and saved homelessness services that would have otherwise ended. Under the second banner, the council put $40 million toward Green New Deal policies and $8 million toward Vision Zero, a commitment to end traffic fatalities. Lastly, the council fully funded the police department's hiring and retention policy and set up a pilot program to send mental professionals as lead responders to 911 calls.
However. During negotiations over all that stuff, the council made it abundantly clear that they couldn’t please everyone–or rather, that they wouldn’t vote for a progressive tax increase to cover the deficit that caused them to budget with a scarcity mindset, despite the fact that Seattle voters elected many of them in 2019 basically to do just that.
In the process of picking and choosing which departments and programs deserved the resources they willingly limited, the council's final budget managed both to please and piss off every key “stakeholder” in the city.
Please join me as I roll through the major wins and losses for each of these stakeholders. Under advisement from my editor, a millennial, I will use an emoji to indicate whether or not a particular budget amendment pleased or pissed off the person or group in question.
Politicians typically use the term “stakeholders” to refer to normal people who don’t work at City Hall. But, as the Mayor and the council work to move past the traditionally hostile relationship between the legislative and executive branches, the Council tried its darnedest to work with Mayor Harrell, even as they ripped apart his proposed budget and he made threats to the cops about working to replace some members.
Regardless of that tension, the council’s budget gave the Mayor some things to smile about and other things to scream into his pillow about.
☹️ Raises for social workers secured: For one, many council members did not hide their disgust for the Mayor’s proposal to give human service workers a pay cut in spite of the law he passed to raise those workers’ wages in accordance with inflation. The council cut the Mayor’s bad policy decision in an amendment sponsored by Council Members Teresa Mosqueda and Lisa Herbold, which will ensure human service workers get their proper wage increases.
☹️ Sweeps squad neutered a bit: Additionally, Mosqueda made serious edits to Harrell’s pro-sweep investment into the Unified Care Team (UCT), a group of City employees tasked with harassing Seattle’s unhoused. She cut five positions from the team and shifted the $1.6 million in savings to the King County Regional Homelessness Authority’s (KCRHA) outreach team. She also threw KCRHA an additional $800,000 over two years for the Authority’s administrative needs. She argued this move will keep unhoused people with the organizations they already have connections with and “enhance” the Mayor’s proposal rather than work against it. Every council member except for Council Members Alex Pedersen and Sara Nelson voted to approve Mosqueda’s amendment. See that, Harrell? Pedersen and Nelson have your back!
😁 Parking enforcement returned to SPD: A few other council members scored brownie points with the Mayor by siding with him on the meaningless debate about which department should house the Parking Enforcement Unit (PEU). In response to the pressure of the defund movement in 2020, the council voted to move the PEU out of the Seattle Police Department (SPD) and into the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT). This year, the Mayor wanted to move the PEU back into SPD, probably to increase his approval among the Seattle Is Dying crowd. Six council members voted to make that change to save about $16 million for other priorities. Mosqueda voted no, and Council Members Tammy Morales and Kshama Sawant abstained. Morales said she didn’t want to expand SPD’s “footprint,” and Sawant gave the nuclear take that this debate was just a distraction from meaningfully defanging cops.
The Solidarity Budget
The Solidarity Budget is a coalition of progressive organizations that banded together to lobby the council to meet the demands of Seattle’s left. Based on some of the coalition's key demands, the council didn’t completely fail them. They did a lot better than the Mayor’s first crack at the budget, at least.
😁 Ghost cops chopped: The Solidarity Budget called for the council to cut the Mayor’s proposal to fund 120 unfillable positions at SPD, aka “ghost cops.” When central staff crunched the numbers, they actually found even more ghost cops–a whopping 240. The council voted to remove 80 of those ghost cop positions to save $11 million. The Solidarity Budget can thank everyone but Council Members Andrew Lewis, Pedersen, and Nelson for passing this one.
VICTORY! A majority of Seattle City Council just voted to abrogate (eliminate) 80 ghost cop positions! This means that next budget cycle, the $11M tied to those positions goes back to the general fund, where we will fight for it to be used to meet basic needs. #SolidarityBudget pic.twitter.com/Nse97sY0Ue— Decriminalize Seattle Coalition (Official) (@DecrimSeattle) November 22, 2022
😁 ShotSpotter axed: The Solidarity Budget also called for the council to reject Harrell’s proposal to implement a controversial (read: bad) gunshot detection system. Mosqueda took care of that ask in her balancing package.
😐 A little funding for RV outreach: The coalition also uplifted the demands of Seattle’s unhoused, who can’t always access public comment periods. At an event last week, many unhoused people demanded more investment into RV safe lots. Strauss threw vehicle residents a bone, adding a little over $100,000 in 2023 for outreach specifically for people living in recreational vehicles and to mitigate parking offenses the City sticks them with. The budget also funds the KCRHA, which plans to spend $5 million on RV safe lots to accommodate 130 vehicles in the county.
☹️ Sweeps not stopped: Though the council met some of the Solidarity Budget’s demands, they did not gut funding for sweeps. Mosqueda may have lost some favor with the Mayor by neutering his UCT, but she did not remove $38 million from the UCT, as Solidarity Budget organizers demanded.
The People’s Budget
The People’s Budget is another lefty group, but it’s run out of Sawant’s office. The group is separate from the Solidarity Budget, even though they advocate for some overlapping demands. The demands specific to the People’s Budget didn’t go over well with the council.
☹️ No progressive taxes to pay for necessities: The People’s Budget pushed hard for the council to follow Sawant’s advice and increase the JumpStart payroll tax to fill the $140 million budget hole that caused so many headaches throughout negotiations. Mosqueda and Morales joined Sawant in this effort, but Council Members Debra Juarez, Nelson, Pedersen, Strauss, and Lewis voted against it while Herbold abstained. The council fucked with the wrong socialists. Sawant’s party, Socialist Alternative, is notorious for making a stink when the Democrats on council do working class people dirty. And based on her remarks at the meeting on Monday, she’s ready to rally the troops to keep fighting to tax the shit out of big business to serve the needs of Seattle’s most vulnerable.
😐 Some funds for abortion: The People’s Budget also demanded that Seattle become a “true sanctuary city” by using JumpStart funds to make abortion free. An estimate from central staff put a $3.5 million price tag on that program. The council probably did enough to appease the pink pussy hats by investing $1.5 million into the Northwest Abortion Access Fund, but not enough to appease the socialists, who wanted to cut out the middle man and stand up a free abortion program within the public health department.
🤔 Northwest African American Museum: The People’s Budget asked the council to take $500,000 from SPD’s advertising budget in 2023 and give it to the Northwest African American Museum for repairs. If you love cop ads, then don’t worry: SPD would still get $1 million out of this deal. Sawant’s office added the amendment pretty late because she only learned of the museum's needs after the deadline for amendments. But there’s some dispute over whether the museum backed the policy. Nelson said she called up the director of the museum and learned that she did not know the amendment would dip into SPD funds and didn’t support that move. Nelson called Sawant's “lack of transparency … regrettable.” I emailed the president and CEO of the museum to confirm and I will update if she responds. Only Sawant, Morales, and Mosqueda voted yes on that one.
After a child killed another child at Ingraham High School earlier this month, students from across the Seattle Public School (SPS) District demanded action. The State Legislature, which makes the rules on guns and funds public schools, is not in session until January, so the students made demands of the City for the time being.
😐 Some money for counselors: Specifically, the Seattle Student Union asked the council to spend $9 million to pay a living wage to enough counselors to achieve a ratio of one counselor for every 200 high schoolers. As it stands, there’s one counselor for every 350 students, according to an SPS spokesperson, even though Washington voters already passed an initiative eight years ago to establish a 1:200 ratio. The council did not quite meet the demand, but Mosqueda added $4 million over the next two years for mental health services in schools. The council approved Juarez’s proviso to ensure that $250,000 of that $4 million goes straight to Ingraham High School.
☹️ Defund the police: The council said the City could not afford the full extent of the students’ demands in the face of a budget shortfall. But the students had an idea for a workaround: take the $9 million from the cops. That move would clearly demonstrate that the City prioritized measures to prevent violence among children over policing. No council member put forward an amendment to do that.
Urbanist Twitter represents another important left-leaning interest group that the council somewhat appeased and somewhat ignored. Think of the people who take a picture whenever an elevator falls out of service at a light rail station, the people who get into scuffles about how many affordable housing units the left should settle for in private developments, the people who drool over photos of row houses in other cities, etc. They are sympathetic to many of the Solidarity Budget’s demands, with a special focus on reducing pedestrian deaths and improving public transportation.
☹️ No municipal housing: One thing Urbanists love: density. Morales’s amendment to establish a Municipal Housing Authority would have helped Seattle build and acquire more green, affordable housing to meet the ever-growing demand in this increasingly unaffordable city. But the council said, “Fuck that.” Only Lewis and Sawant voted yes with Morales. The amendment also would have helped set the stage for the House Our Neighbors ballot initiative to establish a public housing developer, a policy thousands of Seattleites signed a petition to support. You can still vote for that policy in February, and now the vote will be especially gratifying. You’re not just voting for social housing, you’re voting to stick it to the libs on council.
And people wonder why I-135 went the ballot initiative route. Case in point! Shout out to @CMTammyMorales for having the courage to put this forward, and to @cmkshama and @CMAndrewJLewis for voting yes.— Tiffani "Yes on I-135" (@TiffaniMcCoy1) November 22, 2022
😁 Bye bye, gas-powered leaf blowers: But it wasn’t all disappointment for the municipal nerds. Ryan Packer, senior editor at The Urbanist, praised Pedersen’s crusade against gas-powered leaf blowers. The council voted unanimously to stop Seattle Parks and Recreation from buying more of those machines, which seemed to make Seattle’s urbanists smile.
😁 Hello, school zone cameras: In a story this summer, The Urbanist advocated for speed cameras to keep pedestrians safe. Pedersen, not known among progressives for good ideas, proposed funding to expand the school zone cameras program, which makes money for the City by fining speeding drivers. It’s unclear how much the cameras will raise–$1 million on the conservative side, according to The Urbanist. The revenue will be spent on making school routes safer and more general pedestrian safety.
😁 Bike lanes in South Seattle: Perhaps the biggest win for Seattle’s urbanists came from Morales, who fought to prioritize bike safety in the South End. She proposed the council save $1 million in existing SDOT funding to make bike lane improvements in District 2, which sees a disproportionate number of traffic deaths. Everyone voted yes.
After word got out about the County expanding an existing shelter in the backyard of the Chinatown International District (CID), CID residents, especially elders, came to city and county council meetings in droves. While the County had already held a few different meetings about the expansion with neighborhood stakeholders, the expansion was unwelcome news to many CID residents. The City and the County have historically ignored the CID. In this budget, the council invested in the neighborhood in a couple ways.
😁 Stop Asian hate: Harrell proposed to defund community programs that aim to prevent Asian hate by 50%. His office seemed to think that move was okay for some pro-cop reasons, but Mosqueda disagreed. She proposed an amendment to fully restore funding to these prevention programs, as Tanya Woo, an organizer leading the charge against the shelter, requested during public comment periods.
😁 More outreach: Some homeless shelter protesters called for increased outreach to the neighborhood’s unhoused residents. Morales added a little under $500,000 over two years to pay for the Human Services Department to do just that.
🙃 The shelter expansion: There’s not much to say about the shelter expansion that brought these protesters to council chambers throughout the fall. The council cut the $10 million they had once planned to use to fund the services hub, though that’s not really a flex because the shelter got nixed last month. But hey! That’s $10 million for other stuff!
With that, budget season is pretty much over. Central staff will now look over the final draft a few times to make sure no misplaced commas will put the City in a world of hurt later. Then, on Monday, the council will take a purely procedural vote on the package–no fighting or last-minute changes. After that, the budget goes to the Mayor. He can sign it into law, take the coward’s route and let it become law without a signature, or he can veto it, in which case the council can override him with seven of nine votes.
As for the other stakeholders, we really can’t change the budget at this point. But, you can always yell at the council during public comment periods, organize demonstrations, or try to nab one of their seats in 2023.