This morning, Budget Chair Sally Bagshaw unveiled the budget “balancing package,” the first draft of the changes that the Council will be making to the Mayor’s proposed 2019-2020 budget. And so starts the “end game” for the budget development process.
After last week’s discussion of proposed changes offered by Council members, Bagshaw assembled the balancing package to represent changes that have broad, uncontroversial support among her colleagues so as not to require further debate. True to its name, it forms a balanced budget, so the Council could pass it into law in its current form and it would be meeting the legal obligation to enact a budget for the next biennium. Bagshaw noted this morning that the Council members had proposed about $200 million in additional expenditures, but with only about $6 million in additional revenues and savings, a tiny fraction of the proposals could be accommodated.
The Council members have one more opportunity to make changes to the budget. They can submit by noon on Friday additional “green sheet” change proposals, to be considered at next Wednesday’s Budget Committee meeting. But the bar is now very high: in order to be even considered next Wednesday, a green sheet must:
- be self-balancing: any additional expenditures must be offset by additional revenues or a cut to expenditures elsewhere;
- have the support of five Council members to be considered. That doesn’t obligate the Council members to vote for adding it to the budget next week; it simply means they are willing to have it discussed and brought up for a vote.
At next Wednesday’s meeting, the Council members will start with the Mayor’s proposed budget as a baseline and vote on every individual change: all the ones incorporated into the Chair’s balancing package, plus any new green sheets. They will then vote on accompanying Statements of Legislative Intent, and pieces of legislation that are necessary for the budget (such as setting fee schedules or authorizing bond issuances). After all of that, the Council’s central staff will finalize all the paperwork, the Budget Committee will give it a final blessing on Monday morning November 19th, and then the full Council will adopt the budget Monday afternoon.
There were no big surprises in the chair’s balancing package unveiled this morning, since the City Council had so little money to spend. The Council is clearly feeling risk-averse after the head tax fiasco; Council member Sawant was the only one to propose significant new revenue source, and she received little support from her colleagues. The items that did make it into the budget include:
- some additional funding to move forward on a hybrid fixed-mobile supervised consumption site (aka a “CHEL”);
- expansion of the LEAD diversion program to additional parts of the city;
- small incremental additions to the Navigation Team, SFD, and other key “first responder” and outreach groups to add professionals in public health, medical, mental heath and substance abuse treatment;
- $1 million allocated to the collection of “Budget for Justice” community-based organizations that work to establish alternatives to incarceration and probation. The funds are allocated in the 2020 budget, with the expectation that 2019 will be used to plan in detail which organizations should receive the money and what it will be used for;
- provisos on several city programs, including the Navigation Team whose budget will be released in quarterly tranches after the Council receives a required report on team activities; and streetcar-related funding for both operation of the existing lines and the construction of the Center City Connector line.
There is also a long list of “Statements of Legislative Intent” asking the executive branch to investigate issues and report back to the Council.
All nine Council members managed to get earmarks in the balancing package for pet programs and issues. Six of the seven district-based Council members — all but Sawant — successfully went to bat for items for their district. Among the earmarks each Council member won:
Herbold (District 1):
- $40,000 to operate Colman Pool for an additional four weeks;
- changes to the South Park Campus Improvements Project;
- $170,000 over two years for a Legacy Business Designation Program;
- a paving project for 35th Avenue SW;
- retaining the South Park Public Safety Coordinator.
Harrell (District 2):
- $150,000 over two years to support the Northwest African-American Museum;
- $250,000 for Historic Seattle;
- a feasibility study for a new Central Area Preservation and Development Authority;
- $500,000 in 2020 for Phase 3 of the Rainier Safety Project.
Sawant (District 3):
- $1,134,000 for funding basic shelters operated by SHARE/WHEEL through 2020;
- $24,000 over two years to fund Indigenous Peoples’ Day celebrations.
Johnson (District 4):
- funding three part-time positions to continue operating hours at Magnuson Park Community Center;
- accelerating by two years the Magnuson Park Athletic Field 12 conversion project;
- installation of suicide-prevention hotline signs on the 20th Ave NE bridge and at other locations around the city;
Juarez (District 5):
- $1.2 million over two years for food banks, using soda tax revenues;
- funding to construct a new Lake City Community Center;
- $200,000 over two years for God’s Li’l Acre homeless day center;
- $575,000 over two years to support homelessness prevention services at Seattle Helpline Coalition sites.
O’Brien (District 6):
- updating the plan for the Green Lake Community Center and Pool replacement project to include funding from the Seattle Parks District in its 2020 spending plan;
- $1.5 million for Ballard Bridge pedestrian and bicycle safety improvements.
Bagshaw (District 7):
- $140,000 over two years to fund activation at City Hall Park;
- directing $470,000 of King county Levy funding for Yesler Crescent improvement projects;
- $250,000 for SDOTs’ downtown urban freight mobility and alley congestion reduction efforts.
- $275,000 for a coordinator for Seattle’s response to the 2020 Census;
- $100,000 to begin modifications to host a child care center in City Hall;
- $1.8 million to increase wages for employees of human services providers under contract with the city (on top of the 2% increase in the Mayor’s budget);
- $159,000 for a Beacon Hill air and noise pollution study.
- $260,000 to fund park ambassadors at Ballard Commons Park;
- $400,000 over two years for the Home and Hope program;
- $395,000 of additional funding over two years for the immigrant Legal Defense Network.
To be clear: I’m not arguing that earmarks are bad. Under our district-based system, it’s an inevitable consequence that Council members will fight for their district. But either way it’s instructive to look at what they fought to get funding for, regardless of whether you believe earmarks are a sign of frivolous special-interest-driven spending or elected officials fighting for the people they represent.