What to look for in tomorrow’s budget meeting

Tomorrow the Council’s budget deliberations get real. They are done talking about issues in the abstract, and from now until the budget is approved they will instead be discussing concrete proposals to change the Mayor’s proposed budget.

The first 60 or so proposals (officially “Form B’s,” formerly known as “green sheets”) are on the agenda for tomorrow, with more to follow on Thursday and Friday.

Given the lack of funds to pay for additional spending, the vast majority of items will get a quick pitch from their sponsor and the Council will move on. However, here are some items on the agenda that may get more substantial discussion.

  1. A trio of celebrations. Council members Sawant and Harrell are pitching increases to the Office for Civil Rights’ budget to provide funding for three city celebrations:  Indigenous People’s Day (Sawant), Human Rights Day (Harrell) and MLK Unity Day (Harrell). Despite each event costing $25,000 or less, there hasn’t been consistent funding in the budget for them. Sawant and Harrell seem to have found common cause, which may let these items squeak through.
  2.  Considering changes to single-family zoning in the Comprehensive Plan. Next year is a scheduled opportunity to make major revisions to the city’s Comprehensive Plan. In preparation for that, last year Council member Mosqueda requested that the city do a Racial Equity Toolkit analysis of its strategy for accommodating growth; specifically, whether concentrating increases in density within urban villages is having disproportionate impacts on underserved groups. That analysis is scheduled to be complete by mid-December. This year, Mosqueda is doubling down, requesting that the city set aside $500,000 to complete an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on changes to the city’s single-family zoning to allow for more density. An EIS is a mandatory first step for making that kind of change to the Comprehensive Plan. It’s actually a bit more nuanced than this: Mosqueda appears to be requesting that if the city is planning to do an EIS on other contemplated changes to the Comprehensive Plan, it must include a study of changes to single-family zoning. The question of adding density in single-family neighborhoods was a sore spot in the MHA upzone deliberations. Mosqueda isn’t up for election this year, but it will be interesting to see whether any of the three incumbents running for reelection are willing to speak to the subject one week before Election Day.
  3. Earmarking EDI funds for the Central District. Council member Sawant has proposed adding just over $1 million of additional Equitable Development Initiative (EDI) funds to be spent on Central Area community development. However, as Council member O’Brien has previously pointed out, the Council has so far refrained from directing EDI funds to particular districts or neighborhoods, instead allowing the EDI program (which includes substantial community feedback ) control where the funds are allocated around the city. All nine Council members are fans of the EDI program and wouldn’t hesitate to increase its funding if the dollars were available, but expect resistance to setting the precedent of earmarking the funds.
  4. More fighting over how to spend soda tax funds. The Mayor’s proposed budget allocated $2.5 million of Sweetened Beverage Tax funds to preserving and enhancing the “P Patch” gardens spread around the city. But the SBT Community Advisory Board recommended against that particular allocation. Council member O’Brien has proposed reallocating the $2.5 million to four other programs, and requested that the city study other ways to fund the P Patches.
  5. Municipal broadband in the water pipes. Council member Herbold has requested that the city conduct a study on using the city’s water pipes as conduits to lay down a municipal broadband network, following the example of the City of Anacortes.
  6. Every-other-week garbage collection. Council member Herbold is requesting that the city renegotiate its contracts with solid-waste vendors to allow for garbage collection every other week instead of weekly.
  7. Studying electrification of all buildings and transportation. Council member O’Brien is requesting that Seattle City Light study the impacts of shifting 100% of the city’s building and transportation energy consumption to electricity by 2030, and report on how SCL’s strategic plan aligns with the Council’s recently-passed Green New Deal resolution.
  8.  Expanding child care assistance. Council member Gonzalez is proposing adding $3.88 million and ten additional staff to expand eligibility for the city’s Child Care Assistance Program: to areas where current gaps exist in child care services, to allow participation by students enrolled in advanced degree programs, and to allow participation by people who work in Seattle but don’t reside here. This is in addition to the $3 million increase in the program already included in the Mayor’s budget. There are no opponents of child care assistance on the Council, but $3.88 million is a large chunk of money that would fund a large number of items on the Council members’ wish lists.
  9. The income tax.  Council member Herbold is requesting that the city report on steps, the timeline, and necessary funding to collect the income tax it passed several years ago. The legal challenge to the income tax is still working its way through the courts, and will likely end up at the state Supreme Court next year; in the meantime, it’s on hold and the city hasn’t begun to plan how to implement it. Apparently Herbold is optimistic that it will survive judicial review and wants the city to be ready to go if it gets green-lighted by the high court.

Here’s the full set of Form B’s up for consideration tomorrow. Other sets will be on the agenda for Thursday and Friday this week, and then budget chair Sally Bagshaw will have the unenviable task of trying to assemble a “balancing package” that represents the Council’s consensus view of priorities — and enough earmarks to keep the individual Council members happy.

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