Budget season is here. (UPDATED)

(several updated incorporated below — thanks to Kirstan Arestad, Director of the Council’s Central Staff, for her helpful feedback)

In a couple of weeks the City Council will drop nearly everything and spend the next two months hammering out the 2018 city budget. Budget committee chair Tim Burgess has published a schedule for how the Council members and their staff will spend that time.

There already is a starting point for a budget for 2018, since last year the Council wrote a two-year budget including an “endorsed” one for the second year. This year’s process will be about making revisions to that 2018 endorsed budget based on the Mayor’s proposal and the Council members’ own ideas.

On Monday, September 25, Mayor Ed Murray will release his 2018 budget proposal. The Council will meet with city staff over three days, September 20, 26 and 27, to review the endorsed 2018 budget and the needs of major departments. On September 28, the City Budget Office will present its revenue estimates, letting the Council know how much money they will have to spend next year. On October 5, the Council will hold a public hearing, so that members of the public can provide their input.

That wraps up the information-gathering period; then the Council rolls up its sleeves and starts (re-)writing. They will use the same process they did last year:

  • From October 12-17, they will meet to discuss issues, and based on those conversations develop proposals for changes to the Mayor’s baseline budget into “green sheet” forms.
  • October 23-25, the Council members will debate the merits of each of the green sheets submitted and supported by at least three Council members
  • Budget chair Burgess will then incorporate a subset of the green sheets that have consensus support into an “initial balancing package” that he will publish on October 31.
  • The Council will hold another public hearing on November 1 to gather public sentiment on the proposed budget.
  • This is where the fun starts. The Council will do a second round of “green sheets.” Those changes will be discussed on November 7-8.
  • Burgess will then take the output of those discussions and use it to make a “revised balancing package.” Keep in mind that up to this point the Council hasn’t taken a single vote on anything budget-related; it has all been by consensus agreement as facilitated by the Budget committee chair.
  • October 14-15, the real voting happens. All of the individual changes required to codify the revised balancing package are bundled up into one budget bill. Any Council member can ask to have individual items handled separately; all the rest are adopted in a single vote. They then proceed to the ones where separate votes were requested. Council members can then propose adoption of other green sheets, or last-minute proposals, that were not included in the revised balancing package, and the Council will vote on each of them. They then vote the resulting budget out of committee on the morning of the 20th, and the Full Council adopts it in its meeting the afternoon of the 20th.

This process went surprisingly smoothly last year when it was tried for the first time; the “balancing package” approach avoided a ton of paperwork for uncontroversial items. That let the Council members focus their attention on the more difficult and divisive issues. The approach depends heavily on cooperation among the Council members; there’s no guarantee that there will be that level of agreement and cooperation this year, though little evidence that there are major disagreements. We’ll learn more about that in the weeks to come.