The 2020 budget is almost done

In a marathon session this morning, the Council members got 95% of the way to the finish line on assembling the 2020 budget this morning.

Starting with a 182-item package in the consent agenda, the Council members pulled out only six items out for separate deliberation and quickly voted approval of the other 176. They then added eleven additional items for consideration, nearly all retreads of proposals discussed last week that didn’t make it into Budget Chair Sally Bagshaw’s revised balancing package.

Of the eleven additions, six were from Sawant, two from O’Brien, two from Pacheco, and one from Herbold. O’Brien, Pacheco, and Herbold got theirs through with unanimous votes from their colleagues; Sawant was not so fortunate. In fact, only two of her six were approved, and both of those were “statements of legislative intent” that had no budgetary impact. The four that failed were:

  • an attempt to cut SPD’s recruitment and retention initiatives budget by $222,000 and move the funds to HSD for youth diversion, educational and community-building programs;
  • an attempt to completely defund the Navigation Team and use the $8.4 million to fund an additional 14 tiny home villages;
  • an attempt to reduce SPD’s hiring incentive bonus program by $607,000 (out of a total of $814,000) and move the funds to increase renter organizing and outreach through Be:Seattle, the Tenants Union, LGBTQ Allyship, and Washington CAN;
  • an attempt to reduce funding by $304,000 for outreach and planning for congestion pricing downtown, and redirect the funds to pay for eviction legal defense.

Two of these (defunding the Navigation Team, and congestion pricing) were so unpopular with Sawant’s colleagues that she couldn’t even muster a courtesy “second” so that they could be taken up for consideration.

Of the seven items that made it through, five were statements of legislative intent:

  • a request from Pacheco for the Department of Education and Early Learning to explain how it is collecting, disaggregating, and using demographic data related to the Families, Education, Preschool and Promise Levy programs;
  • a request from O’Brien for a report on how the city will move to 100% electrification of transportation and buildings in Seattle by 2030, as stated in the goals of the city’s Green New Deal resolution;
  • a request from O’Brien for the city to prepare a proposal for limiting the siting of fossil fuel processing and storage facilities within the city;
  • a request from Sawant that the Office of Economic Development form a search committee containing representative of labor organizations, to provide recommendations on the hiring of the department’s new Creative Industry Director. Labor representatives from the film and music industry have expressed concerns with OED’s plan to retool its existing film and music office into a new “creative industry” office.
  • a request from Sawant for SDOT to develop an administrative plan and supporting budget proposal to make all public transportation free in Seattle. Several of Sawant’s colleagues expressed general support for the idea but skepticism that it could be achieved in the short term given that about 25% of public transportation in the city is currently supported by fare collection  and the harsh realities of transportation budgeting if Initiative 976 survives legal challenge, but they all supported having SDOT look into and come back with something concrete that they could learn from and evaluate.

In addition to the SLIs, two items with real budget consequences were adopted:

  • a proviso put forward by Pacheco to require SDCI to spend $63,000 of its budget on a plan to update the city’s “green building” standards;
  • a budget change proposed by Herbold that is a scaled-down version of one of Sawant’s failed proposals, that adds another $60,000 for renter organizing and outreach by taking $25,000 from the congestion pricing outreach budget and $35,000 from SPD (effectively delaying the hiring of one admin assistant until later in the year). The $60,000 is in addition to $615,000 already in the 202 budget.

Of the six items removed from the consent package, all six were to allow for some last-minute edits to the items. Most were minor changes, but three were of note:

  • Herbold’s request for the city to write a plan for how to implement the city’s income tax on high earners (in case the Supreme Court finds it constitutional) was modified so that regardless of how the Court rules, the city needs to submit a report: either how to implement it if it’s found constitutional, or what the next steps potentially are for the city if it is thrown out.
  • The budget item providing an additional $3.5 million for the LEAD program was modified to specify where the rest of the money will come from to cover the full $4.8 million needed. It was anounced that the Ballmer Group has agreed to donate $1.5 million to LEAD to cover the gap.
  •  The budget item providing an additional $1.2 million to expand the number of tiny home villages had the most interesting debate of the afternoon. It was a good-natured debate with Sawant on one side, Bagshaw on the other, and Herbold staking out a middle ground, where all three recognized the others had the best of intentions but slightly different perspectives. The original budget item earmarked the money for tiny home village expansion; Bagshaw, using her powers as budget chair, modified it to allow spending on tiny home villages and/or enhanced shelters and to prioritize LEAD, the Navigation Team, and the Seattle Municipal Court for referrals to the new facilities. Sawant, ont he other hand, wanted to roll that back so that the money is solely for tiny home villages and can take referrals from anywhere. Bagshaw explained today that while she recognizes that tiny home villages have become the best practice for the city, she knows how long it takes to find an acceptable site for one and wanted to prioritize getting more shelter capacity as fast as possible, which is why she wanted to give the city the flexibility to build out enhanced shelter capacity quickly while waiting for a village site to be located. Herbold noted that the City Auditor has repeatedly said that the city needs to prioritize the people being moved by the Navigation Team so they are not just “swept” to other places. Sawant countered that while the prioritization language is still in the budget item, she wanted it removed from the proviso because it could be a problem if people with an addiction issue are sent to a “clean and sober” village; she also noted that the only people she has ever heard advocate for enhanced shelters are elected officials, while homeless people and their advocates understand that the privacy associated with tiny homes is essential to stabilizing people. At the end of today’s conversation Sawant’s proposed change was rejected, but she and Herbold will be working on a new compromise version for an 11th-hour fix before the budget gets final approval on Monday.

The Council’s central staff will spend the next few days cleaning everything up and preparing the final version of the budget for Monday. There will doubtless be a handful of last-minute corrections before the Council votes the budget out of committee Monday morning and gives it final approval Monday afternoon, but the hard work — and the difficult negotiations — are done for this year. The rest is paperwork.

The budget process went remarkably smoothly this year, and Budget Chair Sally Bagshaw deserves much praise for shepherding it through while making sure that her colleagues’ priorities were addressed.

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