Notes from today’s Council meetings

The Council decided how to spend payroll tax revenues, and more.


This afternoon the City Council voted unanimously to approve its 2020 COVID relief spending plan, which borrows $86 million from the city’s two reserve funds (to be paid back in early 2022 with payroll tax revenues). They considered two last-minute amendments, both proposed by Council member Strauss:

  • one that expanded eligibility for small business stabilization funds to companies with up to 25 FTEs (increased from 10), and changed the rules to that companies who received grants from the funds in the first round are ineligible for this second round of funding.  It squeaked by with a 5-4 vote; some Council members were concerned that since most of the companies in the first round of funding are owned by immigrants and/or people of color,  collectively the two changes would shift much of the new funding away from communities of color.
  • one that added another $4.7 million to the small business stabilization fund, borrowing the additional amount from the city’s reserve funds (and further depleting them for 2021). The amendment failed by a 3-6 vote; several Council members were concerned about further reducing the reserve fund balances when the expectation is that the city will face an equally grave budget shortfall next year.

The Council also unanimously approved a resolution establishing the spending plan for the payroll tax revenues in 2021 and beyond.

This afternoon the Council also unanimously passed an ordinance sponsored by Council member Lewis that temporarily suspends personal-liability provisions in commercial leases in Seattle during the declared COVID-19 emergency. The Council made two amendments to the bill before adopting it: the first makes the suspension permanent for any business that closes during the government-ordered shutdown, and the second extends the suspension for all other companies to six months after the emergency ends. The Council recently passed separate legislation requiring landlords (including commercial ones) to offer payment plans to tenants for six months after the end of the emergency.

The intent of the bill is compelling: since no one foresaw the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing shutdown when they signed their lease, they shouldn’t have to lose their personal possessions as well as their business if they are unable to pay their lease.

The problem, however, is that it’s illegal: the Washington State Constitution prohibits the government from impairing obligations in contracts, which this ordinance clearly does — even more so since adding the amendment that makes the suspension permanent for any business that closed. That same passage in the Constitution is why city officials can’t legislate rent forgiveness, and it’s also a provision being used to argue against I-976 (since various jurisdictions have pledged vehicle license fees to pay back bonds). However, Lewis noted today that the City Attorney’s Office wrote a “great memo” justifying the legality of the bill. Of course, the City Attorney’s Office doesn’t make that call; a judge does, and inevitably will.

This morning Council member Lewis announced that at last week’s meeting of the new King County Regional Homeless Authority governing board, the board advanced the next step in setting up the organization by appointing the Implementation Board members. You can read their bios here.

This morning, budget chair Mosqueda previewed the upcoming Budget Committee meetings. This week the committee meets on Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning. Mosqueda said that her plan is to discuss (but not vote on) amendments related to everything except SPD funding this week, and then take up SPD-related amendments next week.

This morning Council member Herbold, who chairs the Council’s public safety committee expressed her concern over the events of the last several nights in Portland and especially the actions of federal law-enforcement officials, not wearing identification, reacting violently to protesters and snatching several of them off the streets in unmarked vans. President Trump and his acting Homeland Security Director have defended this behavior and suggested that they might extend it to other cities. Given the violent and destructive protests in Seattle last night as well, Herbold said that she worries it might be used as pretense for Trump to order federal troops into Seattle to do the same. While saying that she would never discourage protesters from exercising their first-amendment rights, she urged them to protest peacefully.

Finally, Council member Juarez announced that the first spans of the new pedestrian/bike bridge over I-5 in Northgate will be installed this week.

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  1. So… when do we get to see the memo on how the “Contract Clause” of the US Constitution doesn’t apply?
    Was the author Pete Holmes?

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