No big surprises as Council prepares to vote on 2021 budget amendments

The day is finally upon us: after seven weeks of work, tomorrow the Council will begin the process of voting on amendments to the Mayor’s proposed 2021 budget.

This morning the City Council’s staff published the near-final list of amendments, and there are few, if any, surprises — though there will be some big speeches and tense moments as Council member Sawant forces her colleagues to take some uncomfortable votes.

Up until now, the Council’s process has been a lot of proposals and discussion, but now that they are actually about to vote the process becomes much more formal. Here’s what will happen tomorrow:

  1. Budget chair Teresa Mosqueda will call the meeting to order.
  2. The Council will adopt the agenda for the meeting. Normally this is dull stuff, but today it’s important, because if any Council member wants to add a last-minute budget amendment for consideration, they need to get it added to the agenda. There will no doubt be a few of these, and a majority of the Council members will need to approve each addition.
  3. Mosqueda has committed to a public comment session of at least an hour.
  4. The Council will begin consideration of the 169 amendments (plus any last-minute additions) up for vote tomorrow. The bad news is that each one will need to be separately read into the record; the good news is that most of them won’t be voted on separately. Mosqueda has divided the amendments into three “voting groups,” labeled A, B and C. Voting groups A and B are each a “consent package,” meaning that all the amendments in the package can be approved with a single vote. A “consent package” is intended to include a group of items that are not considered controversial.
  5. The Council will take up Voting Group A, the first consent package, which contains 125 items that were part of the Chair’s Balancing Package and are not affected by the “Form C” proposed amendments that Council members submitted late last week. The Council’s staff will read all 125 items into the record, and any Council member may request that an item be removed from the consent package for separate consideration and vote. They might remove an item if there is a last-minute amendment-to-the-amendment that needs to be made, or if they wish to be on the record voting “no” on it. Once all the items in the voting group have been read into the record, the Council will take a single vote to approve the consent package. It will then take up individually the items that were removed for separate consideration.
  6. The Council will then take up Voting Group B, the second consent package, which contains “Form C” amendments submitted last week that Mosqueda expects to have consensus support. The same process will be followed: each item will be read in, Council members may request it to be removed from the consent package, the remaining items will be approved with a single vote, then the removed items will be discussed and voted on.
  7. The Council will then take up Voting Group C, which is not a consent package, but contains eight items that are likely to require more debate and won’t have consensus support.  Any last-minute amendments to the agenda will likely go into this voting group.

How long this process takes depends entirely on how many last-minute amendments are added, how many items are removed from the two consent packages, and how tired the Council members are by the time they get to Voting Group C. Reading 169 items into the record will take a lot of time on its own, especially the 125 items in Voting Group A, and the Council may not even get around to its first vote until the afternoon session. In most years the Council gets through all of the amendments in a single day; this year if they don’t, they will finish up on Thursday.

Following the end of the marathon session for voting on amendments, the Council’s staff will assemble everything together into the final budget package. The Budget Committee will then meet very briefly next Monday morning to pass any technical amendments necessary to clean up loose ends, and to vote the budget out of committee. Monday afternoon at the weekly City Council meeting, the Council will then give the 2021 budget its final approval and send it off to the Mayor for her signature.


 

Voting Group A is fairly uncontroversial; there are some tweaks to amendments that appeared in the Chair’s Balancing Package last week, mostly filling in missing details. The amendment establishing a new Community Safety and Communications Center has been updated with more details and an accompanying ordinance officially creating the new department — though much of the text of the ordinance deals with the intricacies of having the new CSCC deal with private security alarm systems and false alarms.

Voting Group B has a handful of notable amendments:

  • the $20 increase to the vehicle-license fee authorized under the Seattle Transportation Benefit District and proposed late last week by Council members Pederse, Herbold and Lewis;
  • a fleshed-out plan to add another $4 million to bridge maintenance;
  • updated language in the proviso the Council is placing on the Mayor’s $30 million Equitable Communities Initiative;
  • an updated amendment creating the “HOPE Team” to replace the Navigation Team;
  • a request that the City Attorney’s Office work on a proposal to create an elected board to oversee SPD and police accountability;
  • $2.38 million to fund Mayor Durkan’s proposed Clean Cities Initiative.

Voting Group C, by definition the items that are unlikely to have consensus support (but some might have majority support), has several controversial amendments:

  • an 87% increase in the “JumpStart” payroll tax rates, which if adopted is projected to raise another $187 million in revenues;
  • reducing the emergency reserve fund by $7 million, and using the funds to expand tiny home villages;
  • Imposing new provisos restricting SPD’s involvement in removing homeless encampments;
  • imposing a hiring freeze on SPD, cutting another $9 million from the department, and investing it in community-led public safety investments;
  • cutting $151 million from SPD’s budget, which combined with other proposed cuts would be a 50% cut in total; investing the savings in affordable housing.

 


 

Wednesday is going to be a long day; remember to pack provisions.  Here are some useful resources:

 


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