Council releases its “first draft” budget

This morning the City Council released its “initial balancing package,” the first collection of Council members’ modifications to the Mayor’s budget proposal.

Last week the Council discussed well over a hundred separate potential changes, and the initial balancing package is intended to be those changes that are the highest priorities for the Council members and have consensus support.  Budget chair Tim Burgess circulated a memo with his principles for the consideration of budget proposals, which fit into five themes:

  • Equity
  • Fiscal sustainability
  • Efficiency
  • Effectiveness
  • Transparency.

In total, 104 changes are in the initial balancing package, including “provisos” placing conditions on funds and “statements of legislative intent” which generally ask the executive branch to go do some work in anticipation of future funding for some effort.

All nine Council members got some of what they were asking for, which were a combination of things to help their district and projects to advance their pet causes. Many of the included items got only part of the funding that was originally requested.

Of the fourteen “notable and nutty” budget requests I posted last week, only two were included: increasing juror pay to $25 per day, and eliminating the special B&O tax tier for international investment management services. A few parts of the “Just and Thriving Communities” proposal got funded, but far from the whole list.

The initial balancing package lived up to its name in that additional “general fund” spending was balanced out with additional revenues. The Council was more generous with restricted-use funds though. In particular there has been a recent windfall of Real Estate Excise Tax (REET) funds, known to be a volatile source, so the Council members chose to use some of it for one-time expenditures on repairs, upgrades, and deferred maintenance. They also used Move Seattle levy funds for a variety of transportation projects, in some cases accelerating the original project schedule by loaning money between city departments until the levy funds arrive.

Here is the full list of accepted items. Among the things that got funding:

It’s equally informative to look at which of last week’s proposals didn’t make the cut. Among them:

  • Establishing a new regulatory fee on businesses to allow the Office of Labor Standards to be fee-supported. (Herbold)
  • Removing the Human Services Department’s requested resources for planning the rollout of the Pathways Home plan for homeless response. (Sawant)
  • Creating three more authorized homeless encampments beyond the four new ones in the Mayor’s budget. (Sawant)
  • Replacing the lost federal funding for transitional housing programs. (Herbold, Sawant and O’Brien)
  • Most of the items in the Just and Thriving Communities proposal from SHSC. (Sawant)
  • Resources for the Tenants Union.  (Sawant)
  • Mitigating the rise in the minimum wage for human services providers under state or federal contracts. (Sawant)
  • Fully funding the Lander Street Overpass project — though the new proposal from Chris Hansen for the SODO Arena might take care of that. (Herbold)
  • Adding the Meadowbrook sidewalk — a major wish-list item for Juarez in her District 5.
  • Increasing the commercial parking tax from 12.5% to 17.5%.  (Sawant)
  • A new $25 per FTE tax on businesses. (Sawant)
  • Purchase and installation of three Portland Loo style restrooms in public areas.  (O’Brien)
  • Additional funding for arts organizations. (Herbold, Sawant, Johnson)
  • Additional resources for the Court Resource Center at Seattle Municipal Court.  (Gonzalez)
  • Capping city employees’ salaries at $150,000.  (Sawant)
  • Planning for a municipal broadband system. (Sawant, Johnson)
  • Defunding planning for a new North Precinct police station and redirecting the money into creating 1000 affordable housing units. (Sawant)

Burgess did note that three items are still under consideration pending further details:

  • The Equitable Development Fund, which could be funded with proceeds from the sale of the Civic Square lot across the street from City Hall;
  • Criminal justice and diversion strategies, including funding an expansion of the Court Resource Center after the City Auditor evaluates it and reports back to the Council;
  • Setting up more 24/7 emergency shelters for the homeless.

This is a pretty safe list; much of the more ambitious stuff up for consideration didn’t make it through. Burgess would say that this is by design: the first round was intended to quickly (and transparently)  get the uncontroversial stuff out of the way.  In fact, Burgess told me this afternoon that so far, “It’s been a very good process.”

From here, the bar rises: Council members must submit by Friday afternoon any proposals they wish to be considered for the next round. They are welcome to re-submit something that didn’t make today’s cut, but this time all proposals must be co-sponsored by three Council members, and in the end they will need support from a majority of the Council members (i.e. five votes) in order to be adopted.

Next week the second round of proposals will be discussed in committee, and the following week the Council will vote on adopting each of them.

One item today caused a fair amount of controversy: a proposal put forth by Burgess to significantly raise the license fee for businesses in the marijuana industry.  I’ll write on that separately.