This morning, Budget chair Lisa Herbold unveiled her first-round “balancing package” of Council-proposed changes to the Mayor’s 2018 budget. And it was not without controversy.
The “balancing package” approach is intended to avoid long debates and tedious votes on uncontroversial items proposed by Council members that have wide support from their colleagues.
In an eyebrow-raising move, Herbold chose to include the proposal by Council members O’Brien, Harris-Talley and Sawant to impose an employee-hours tax (or “head tax”) on businesses with over $5 million in annual revenues (see my earlier post on the tax proposal). In her spoken comments today, Herbold also threw her personal support behind the proposal, but none of the other five Council members did (Bagshaw spoke out in strong opposition; the other four stayed silent, but Juarez, Johnson and Gonzalez have previously said that they don’t support it). Herbold used her role as Budget Chair to jam into the balancing package a controversial proposal that doesn’t even have majority support, let alone wide support.
Short-term, that’s a clever political ploy; now the five Council members who oppose it must actively vote to remove it, and no politician in Seattle wants to be seen voting to take money away from homeless and affordable housing programs. But long-term this may cost her and ambitions she may have to continue on as Budget Chair next year; if her colleagues don’t see her as an honest and fair-handed broker in guiding the delicate budget process, they may choose to give that job to one of her colleagues instead. On the flip side, if Herbold either doesn’t want the job or doesn’t expect to get it anyway, she’s spending her time-limited political capital now to push through a proposal that is important to her.
Here are other notable features of Herbold’s initial balancing package:
- The City Budget Office delivered an update to the Council on 2017 and 2018 revenue forecasts. The good news: they expect 2018 revenues to be $2.5 million higher than originally forecast. The bad news: 2017 revenues are coming in $500,000 lower than expected. So in net, the Council will have $2 million more to spend next year.
- The $3 million in SDOT’s plan to enable remote operation of one of the city’s drawbridges got cut.
- Neither proposal to move forward with Municipal Broadband — Johnson’s plan to put together a voter initiative, and Sawant’s plan to roll out a pilot — made the cut.
- The Center City Streetcar project lives on; none of the proposals that would have paused or ended it are included.
- The proposal to redirect $5.8 million of funds for the SPD North Precinct renovation and new facility planning was revised to only redirect $1 million. The funds to renovate the existing facility were preserved, as was funding necessary to conduct the community outreach and Racial Equity Toolkit analysis that the Council had previously directed the city to do. Harris-Talley, who proposed the original higher amount, was not pleased.
- Money proposed for Magnuson Park (lighting on paths, community center renovations, and additional staffing) is all in the package.
- Council member Sawant’s proposal to prevent Seattle City Light from joining the western power grid’s Energy Imbalance Market was not included.
- The package includes a proviso on funds for a pilot of the HMIS scan-card system requiring that it complete the surveillance-technology review and approval process first.
- Funding for a feasibility study on a safe consumption site (or CHEL site) in Seattle, as well as $550,000 to potentially build it out, are included.
- The proposal by Council members Sawant, Harris-Talley, and O’Brien to defund unsanctioned encampment removals (aka “sweeps”) except on sidewalks, school property and active park areas was not included, but an alternative proposal by Herbold that only funds removals that strictly follow the city’s new MDAR rules (revised early this year) and require weekly reporting to the Council was included instead. This provoked some heated exchanges between Council members, and strong disapproval from activists during the public comment sessions in today’s meeting. Herbold also included in the package her proviso on spending for the Navigation Team, as well as a requirement for the city to provide regular reports on Navigation Team activities.
- The proposed increases to the budgets for the Office of Police Accountability and the Community Police Commission, put forward by Gonzalez, all were included.
- A pair of Statements of Legislative Intent proposed by Harris-Talley related to reining in the chronic issue of SPD’s overtime budget also were included (here and here).
- The tax on short-term rentals (aka the “AirBnB tax”) moved forward, with the final piece of legislation and funding to implement it.
- Mayor Burgess’ plan for offering retirement savings plans to all Seattle employees is included.
- Herbold’s legislation that would remove the Mayor’s ability to fire the Director of the Office of Civil Rights at-will is included.
- Council member Juarez’s proposals to redirect some of the funding from the Sweetened Beverage Tax away from education programs and into food programs are not included, though there is a study for whether the K-12 programs proposed to be funded by the new tax can by funded by the Families and Education Levy instead. However, her plan to redirect $153,000 of general subfund dollars from the My Brother’s Keeper program to fund food banks did survive (the My Brother’s Keeper program will instead be funded using other Parks Department resources).
- The plan to move the “P Patch” program from the Department of Neighborhoods to the Parks Department got nixed, in favor of a requirement for a report to the Council explaining why such a move is required.
- The package includes $1 million for expansion of the successful LEAD program to the north end of the city.
There are several other (mostly minor) items included in the balancing package beyond what is listed above. Here is the full list.
Most of the district-based Council members managed to get included in the package some items to directly benefit their district (though O’Brien and Sawant did not, preferring to focus their energies on city-wide issues); even Gonzalez, who proudly lives in West Seattle and is an unofficial second Council representative for District 1 (despite being in a city-wide position) pushed through some items for South Park.
The budget is still far from being final. The Council members have until Thursday to submit (or resubmit) another round of proposed changes, with at least three Council members signed on to support a change in order for it to be considered. Those items will be discussed next Tuesday and Wednesday. Following that, Herbold will assemble a second balancing package. Up to that point, the Council members will not have taken any official budget-related votes.
Council members will then have one last shot at making changes to the budget on November 14th and 15th, but doing so will require a majority vote to place a proposal on the agenda and a majority to adopt it. The final committee vote on the budget is scheduled for November 20th, and then the budget must again be voted on by the full Council and receive six votes to pass. It then moves to the Mayor’s desk to be ratified or vetoed.