Council prepares to vote on 2022 budget amendments

‘Twas the night before Budget, and through City Hall,
Amendments were written, some big and some small.

Tomorrow the City Council will participate in the ritual marathon session of final Budget Committee deliberations on amendments for next year’s budget. There are 205 amendments on the agenda for tomorrow. Make sure you bring provisions, and possibly a pillow and blanket; we’re going to be here a while. And be ready for some animated discussion of further revisions to the Council’s cuts to SPD’s proposed budget.

While part of the ritual involves reading each amendment into the official record, fortunately they won’t actually be deliberating or voting on all 205 separately. Let’s review how this will play out tomorrow.

After a quick process overview presentation from the Council’s central staff, the Council will consider the amendments in four groups:

Group A:  156 items that were part of Budget Chair Mosqueda’s “balancing package” unveiled last week.  They will all be read into the record, then considered as a “consent package” that can be approved with a single vote. Before that vote happens, however, any Councilmember can ask to have an item removed from the consent package for separate discussion and vote; those that remain will then be approved (most likely unanimously). Three of the items have substitute versions already cued up for consideration, and will almost certainly be pulled out of the consent package (items 72, 122 and 123; we’ll walk through them below).

Group B: thirty items that have been revised in substantive ways since the original versions included in the balancing package. This group will also be presented as a consent package, suggesting that Mosqueda doesn’t expect the updates to be controversial and they will sail through with little discussion — if the Councilmembers have read them in advance.

Group C: eleven new amendments introduced since the balancing package was published last week. Any Councilmember can introduce a new amendment, but it must be “self-balancing”: any increase in spending must be accompanied by either an increase in revenues or an offsetting decrease in spending elsewhere in the budget. An amendment requires a majority vote to be adopted.

Group D: five items that each propose to use the same funding source and thus conflict with some of the others. They are being considered as a separate group to highlight the conflict so the Council can have a focused conversation on whether to adopt a subset (or none) of them.

If the “consent package” votes on Groups A and B go quickly (after the individual amendments in each group are officially read into the record, which will still take a considerable amount of time), then the list of amendments the Council will actually deliberate on over the course of the day will be very short.  But there are some notable changes and new amendments worth calling out.

In Group A, as mentioned earlier, there are three amendments that have substitute versions queued up for possible consideration. The fact that the substitutes have not already been included in Group B with the other updated items in the Chair’s balancing package suggests that Mosqueda believes the original version has consensus support and the proposed substitutes do not.  They are:

  • Item 72 (LAW-002-A-001) adds funding and staff positions to support the pre-filing diversion program in the City Attorney’s Office. The substitute (item 157, LAW-002-B-001), from Councilmember Morales, proposes a different amount of money and staff positions. It’s unclear exactly what is driving this change, but it appears that it is in response to the recent news that eight assistant prosecutors have left the City Attorney’s Office this fall. The updated amendment repurposes some of those open positions to dedicate them to support for pre-filing diversion, and cuts some of the other positions, which would seemingly compel City Attorney-elect Ann Davison to support pre-filing diversion by allocating some of her resources solely for that purpose while also downsizing her team of prosecutors.
  • Item 122, (SDOT-503-B-002) increases the Commercial Parking Tax to 14.5% and applies the revenues to major maintenance for bridges and other transportation structures, and to Vision Zero projects. The substitute version from Councilmember Herbold (item 158, SDOT-503-C-001) increases the tax to 14.75%, slightly cuts the funding to Vision Zero projects, and allocated $480,000 to sidewalk repairs.
  • Item 123, (SDOT-504-C-001) authorizes a $100 million bond, and allocates Real Estate Excise Tax (REET) funds for the bond debt service and for more bridge/structure major maintenance to plan for how to use the $100 million of bond revenues. The substitute version offered by Councilmember Sawant (SDOT-504-D-001) would replace that with a $450 million bond for affordable housing projects, a 51% increase in the payroll tax that would raise $119 million per year, $85 million of new payroll tax revenues allocated to Green New Deal projects, and $33.6 million allocated for debt service on the new bond.

A quick read suggests that none of the “Group B” updated amendments are controversial; most simply tweak or clarify the details.

Here are some of the notable new amendments in Group C:

  • Items 190, (ARTS-005-A-001), 193 (HOM-014-B-001) and 195 (OH-106-A-001), both offered by Councilmember Morales, would collectively cut $4.1 million from the allocated budget for a new Salvation Army homeless shelter, and give $1.1 million for a Cultural Space Agency PDA land acquisition fund, $2 million for development of a new city-run social housing acquisition program, and $1 million to acquire land for transitional housing. The Salvation Army shelter has $12 million currently in the budget: $2 million for build-out expenses, $5 million for 2022 operations, and another $5 million for 2023 operations. These amendments would cut the 2023 allocation, presumably under the assumption that a year from now the Council can find other sources to bring it back up to $5 million.
  • Item 191, (CBO-512-A-001) offered by Councilmember Herbold, would modify Mayor Durkan’s recent emergency executive order authorizing hiring bonuses for SPD officers and 911 dispatchers. Herbold’s modified version would cap the 2021 spending on hiring bonuses at $500,000, and terminate the executive order on December 31, 2021 — Durkan’s last day in office.
  • Item 200 (SPR-015-A-001), offered by Councilmember Pedersen, would cut $190,000 from the Parks Department budget by eliminating pay raises for senior staff and executives in the department and use the funds to restore use of Laurelhurst Community Center.

Group C also has some proposed changes to SPD’s budget:

  • Item 192, (FG-901-A-001) offered by Councilmember Mosqueda, would cut $2 million from a FEMA contingency fund, cover $945,000 in Sweetened Beverage Tax shortfall for food assistance programs, and use the remainder to restore the expansion of the Community Service Officer (CSO) program.
  • Item 198 (SDOT-107-A-001), offered by Councilmember Herbold, would cut the $2.4 million allocated for restarting planning on the Center City Connector streetcar program, put $400,000 into school bus routing technology, and use $2 million to fund a city-wide incentive hiring program that would include SPD officers.
  • Item 199 (SPD-012-A-001) would abrogate 101 police officer FTE positions, accounting for the extra attrition in the department this year. It wouldn’t affect 2022 SPD funding, but it would ensure that the baseline funding for the department in 2023 more accurately reflects the real employment level in the department.

Finally the “Group D” amendments all involve reducing the 2022 contribution to the city’s Revenue Stabilization Fund, which was largely depleted over the past two years. Under the city policy, at least $3.1 million must be deposited in the fund in 2022; the current budget contributes $13.5 million, so as much as $10.4 million could be siphoned off for other purposes. The options on the table:

  • Councilmember Pedersen proposes two amendments that are options for restoring the cuts to SPD’s budget: Item 201 (SPD-015-A-001-2022) which would restore $10 million; and item 202 (SPD-016-A-001-2022) which would restore $5.32 million and partially fund some of the cuts.  Most notably, the second version splits the difference on predicted officer separations: while SPD predicted 94 and the Council predicted 125, Pedersen’s amendment assumes 94 plus another 12 for COVID vaccine mandate-related separations, or a total of 106. Councilmember Juarez co-sponsored the version that partially-restores funding to SPD.
  • Item 203 (SPD-014-A-001-2022), offered by Councilmember Lewis, would also fully restore the $2.7 million in cuts because of the Council’s higher estimate for officer separations. In earlier discussions Lewis expressed his skepticism about the Council’s estimate of 125 separations, and Council staff pointed out that neither the Council nor SPD have shown any aptitude for estimating SPD’s annual attrition.
  • Item 204 (SDOT-012-A-001), also offered by Lewis, would move $500,000 to SDOT for waterfront shuttle transit service.
  • Item 205 (AUD-001-B-001) would add $360,000 and some staff to the City Auditor’s office to increase auditing capacity.

Expect a long day. The three potential substitute amendments in Group A will take some time, though perhaps less so if Councilmember Sawant’s amendment to increase the payroll tax and issue a $450 million bond doesn’t draw a second to her motion to consider it (it wouldn’t be the first time in recent weeks that her colleagues denied her the opportunity to give a ten-minute speech about something that had no chance of approval).  Group B, the set of updated items from the balancing package, could go very fast if the Councilmembers have done their homework, or very slow if they want to review all the changes. But expect the bulk of the day to be spent discussing the sixteen new amendments in Groups C and D (and any last-minute ones “walked on” tomorrow). The amendments related to restoring some or all of SPD’s budget will undoubtedly inspire significant debate and perhaps some close votes, as we watch how the Councilmembers respond to the heavy criticism they have received from some quarters on the proposed cut included in Mosqueda’s balancing package.

Also, keep in mind that the Council won’t actually begin its deliberations until 11am, after 90 minutes of public hearing starting at 9:30 tomorrow morning. If they don’t get through all four groups on Thursday, they will recess at about 5pm and pick up where they left off on Friday morning at 9:30.

Once the amendments have all been voted on, the Council’s central staff will spend the weekend clearing off the debris, crossing the t’s, dotting the i’s, and putting a pretty bow around it so that Monday morning the Council can hold its final Budget Committee meeting of the year and vote the 2022 budget out of committee — setting it up for final approval in the full City Council meeting Monday afternoon.

You can download Thursday’s agenda and the full set of amendments — all 2,530 pages — here.

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