Budget: today’s the big day

Today is the pivotal point in the City Council’s budget deliberations, the first time the Council members vote on actual changes to the Mayor’s proposed budget.  Here’s a quick guide to what will happen today.

At 9:30 this morning, Budget committee chair Tim Burgess will call the meeting to order.

The first order of business will be public comment: the last chance for Seattle residents to let the Council know their thoughts before they vote on specific budget items.  Expect the “1000 Units of Affordable Housing” coalition to show up in force and speak at great length — and expect the public comment session to go over an hour.

Next, the Council will adopt the agenda for the meeting. Normally, this is a no-brainer, but for this one meeting it is incredibly important, because the only budget changes that will get discussed and voted on today will be those on the agenda. Expect Council members to attempt to add several items to the agenda; each one will require a majority (5) vote just to get added. Currently Council member Sawant’s proposal to strip the North Precinct of funds and spend $160 million on affordable housing is not on the agenda, and she has announced that she will be raising it this morning. It will likely get a second from Council member O’Brien, but it’s not at all clear that it will get 5 votes and make it onto the agenda. That would bring a swift endto the most talked-about item of this fall’s budget season.

From there, the Council takes up the long list of proposed changes — over 100 items. To speed up the process, they have been grouped into three “packages” based upon type:

  • Statements of Legislative Intent: these are essentially requests for the Executive Branch to go do something, like studying an issue and reporting back to the Council. They rarely have direct fiscal impact.
  • Green Sheets: these are actual changes to the Mayor’s proposed budget, with fiscal impact.
  • Council Bills: there are ordinances and resolutions that change the city’s laws where required to enact a budget change, such as when official fee structure changes need to be approved, or if a new city department were to be created.

The intent of the “packaging” of these items is so that the Council can approve them with one vote, instead of voting each one separately. But before each package is voted on, any Council member can ask for any item in the package to be removed so it can be discussed and voted on separately.  So what we will see in the meeting today is a package come up for consideration, Council members remove items from the package, a vote for everything still in the package, and separate discussion, possible amendments, and votes for each removed item. Anything added to the agenda this morning will be considered as a separate item, since it hasn’t had the benefit of the two rounds of discussion the Council has engaged in over the last several weeks. And if a Council member wants to amend an item before it is voted upon, it will need to be removed from the package first.

The Council’s hope is that the two rounds of “balancing package” discussion means that many items will have consensus support such that the packages remain large and the number of separate items is small, but this is a new process — and a Council with many new members — so it’s less clear whether it will really work out that way.

This memo written by the Council’s staff lays out the rules for today’s meeting, and the items that are in each of the three packages.

Don’t forget your popcorn. Or your pillow; it’s going to be a long day.