Council unveils its budget “balancing package”

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:

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):

Harrell (District 2):

Sawant (District 3):

Johnson (District 4):

Juarez (District 5):

O’Brien (District 6):

Bagshaw (District 7):



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.


  1. Super interesting. So if council proposed $200 incremental in spending and only $6 in revenue – what happens next? Without additional cuts where does the revenue come from?

    1. What happens next is what happened with the balancing package: they prioritize $6 in spending to include, and leave the rest of the proposals ($194) on the cutting room floor.

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