Mosqueda announces plan and schedule for revising city budget, “inquest” into SPD budget

This morning Council member Teresa Mosqueda, who chairs the Budget Committee, announced the plan and schedule for the Council’s deliberations on a revised 2020 city budget.

The special budget session is necessary in order to re-balance the budget to account for an expected $210-300 million deficit due to declines in revenues and increases in expenses related to the COVID-19 response.

The month-long session begins tomorrow when the Mayor transmits to the Council her proposal for a re-balanced budget. The Budget Committee will then meet every Wednesday from June 10 through July 8 to discuss issues, propose and deliberate on amendments, and ultimately pass out of committee a revised budget.

Mosqueda’s plan splits the process into two parallel tracks: one for proposals for increasing revenues (usually in the morning), and one for expenses (in the afternoon).  The revenue track will take up again the payroll tax proposed by Council members Sawant and Morales, though there may be competing proposals such as for an income tax. The payroll tax bills are already on the agenda for the first meeting this Wednesday afternoon. Mosqueda’s plan anticipates the revenue track finishing up a week or two ahead of the  expenses track, so that the city can make final spending decisions knowing how much many they will have to spend — a smart move given that any tax proposals put forward are likely to be controversial — and in 2017 a last-minute failure of the first proposed “Amazon Tax” threw the budget process into chaos.

This morning Mosqueda also announced that as part of the budget deliberations the Council will conduct an “inquest” into the Seattle Police Department’s budget, which she described as a “black box.” The 24-page budget adopted by the Council and published by the city breaks out the department’s budget by division, but provides no helpful detail on how funds are spent within each division — for example, how much is spent on tear gas, blast balls, and other crowd-control tools. Mosqueda this morning stated her support for reducing the police department’s budget by at least 50%; some other Council members expressed support for major cuts without giving a specific target, and Council member Juarez insisted on seeing the details of the budget rather than choosing an arbitrary target cut.

In a press release this morning, Mosqueda said:

“We’re in the midst of a deadly global pandemic, a possible recession that could reach Great Depression levels, and protests calling for greater police accountability and reinvestments in racial justice policies. These are the overarching themes that we must seek to address and rectify as we consider the 2020 Rebalancing Budget, and our 2021 and 2022 budgets,” Mosqueda said. “I commit to defunding the Seattle Police Department to reinvest in community-based public safety programs and solutions. We must first do a thorough, transparent deep dive into the Seattle Police Department’s funding. The police department’s $400 million-plus budget for too long has been a black box, a lack of information on where that money is going, as often departments will only share details with Mayoral approval. The budget is a reflection of the City’s values and priorities, and must be in alignment with our constituents’ needs, not an austerity budget that does not address these unprecedented times.”

Formal public hearings on the budget will be held on June, 17, June 23, and July 1; though Mosqueda said that there will be opportunities for public comment at every committee meeting.

In order that the Council’s staff may focus on supporting the budget process, regularly-scheduled meetings of other Council committees will be cancelled during the budget session. However, recognizing that the ongoing COVID-19 emergency might require the Council to take action, Council President Gonzalez and Council Member Mosqueda may approve exceptions as necessary, in keeping with standard practice for the Council’s regular fall budget sessions.

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