Council advances 2022 budget package toward final approval Monday

In a marathon session last Thursday, the City Council moved forward Budget Chair Teresa Mosqueda’s 2022 balancing package mostly unchanged, setting it up for final approval Monday afternoon.

As SCC Insight wrote last week, Thursday’s agenda was divided into four sections:

  • Group A: a “consent package” of items in the balancing package as Mosqueda originally submitted them;
  • Group B: a consent package of items that were in the original balancing package but have received updates since then;
  • Group C: new amendments submitted after the balancing package was published;
  • Group D: a handful of new amendments that potentially conflict with each other, related to competing uses for the same funding source and/or restoring some of the Council’s cuts to SPD’s proposed budget.

Group A had three items removed from the consent package for separate consideration: items 72, 122, and 123 in the agenda.

Item 72, which added budget to the City Attorney’s Office to fully staff the pre-filing diversion program, was pulled by Councilmember Morales so she could propose a substitute that would redirect existing resources in the criminal prosecution unit to fully fund pre-filing diversion, instead of adding new resources — effectively reducing the City Attorney’s capacity to prosecute crimes. But her substitute failed by a substantial margin, and the original amendment was adopted.

Item 122 increased the commercial parking tax to 14.5%, to put extra funds into bridge maintenance and Vision Zero projects. Councilmember Herbold pulled it to offer a substitute that would raise the tax to 14.75% and reallocate revenues to direct some to sidewalk repairs. Lewis, the sponsor of the original amendment, objected because he had carefully negotiated the 14.5% rate with various stakeholders and he had not had the opportunity to discuss a larger increase with them; the other Councilmembers followed suit, Herbold’s substitute failed, and the original amendment passed.

Item 123, a $100 million bond for bridge maintenance funding, was pulled in absentia by Sawant (who was on day 3 of a migraine, and missed the entire morning session Thursday). She had intended to offer a substitute that would have authorized a 51% increase in the payroll tax and a much larger bond to pay for $450 million in additional spending on affordable housing and $85 million in Green New Deal projects, but since she was not present that substitute (which had very little chance of passing) was never moved and the original amendment was approved.

So in the end, all the items in Group A passed unchanged.

Group B took a bit longer to process since the Council needed to review the updates, but again only three items were removed from the consent package for separate consideration: items 172, 186 and 187. All three received minor updates that were adopted unanimously, and everything in group B was adopted.

Group C originally contained eleven items. Three were moved to Group D: items 192 and 199 because they related to SPD’s budget, and item 198 because an amendment was offered that would change its funding source to the same one that other Group D items were competing for.

Of the remaining items, only three passed:

  • item 191, a modification to Mayor’s Durkan’s executive order authorizing hiring incentive bonuses for SPD officers and 911 dispatchers. The modification, offered by Herbold, capped the spending at $500,000 and added an expiration date of December 31, 2021: Mayor Durkan’s last day in office. It passed by a 4-2 vote, with three Councilmembers abstaining.
  • items 196 and 197, both nonbinding Statements of Legislative Reports requesting reports.

Three amendments (190, 193 and 195) offered by Morales proposing to partially cut funding for a Salvation Army homeless shelter downtown to pay for other uses all failed. The budget provides for enough funding for the shelter through 2023, with “carryover authority” so the money can roll over at the end of 2022 without needing to be re-appropriated, and the proposed cuts would have only affected the 2023 portion of the budget so there would have been opportunity to fix it next fall; however, there was no appetite among the Councilmembers to remove homeless shelter funding. One of the three only received a single “yes” vote, from Morales; the other two failed to even be considered for lack of a second.

Another item, offered by Pedersen that would have kept the Laurelhurst Community Center open (by cutting raises for Parks Department senior staff) failed by a 4-5 vote.

Group D was where the debates got complicated, and passionate at times. There were overlapping proposals to restore some or all of the cuts to SPD’s proposed budget included in Mosqueda’s balancing package. There were also competing proposals to reduce the 2022 contribution to the Revenue Stabilization Fund, which had been severely depleted over the past two years as the city struggled with revenue shortfalls during the COVID-19 pandemic and economic recession. The balancing package would have contributed about $10 million more than the minimum required under a revised city policy, and some of the Group D amendments proposed dropping the contribution partly or fully back down to the minimum.

After the public backlash in some quarters to the balancing package’s cuts to the proposed SPD budget, there was a surprising openness¬† among some Councilmembers to restoring some of the cuts; however, there was substantial opposition to reducing the Revenue Stabilization Fund contribution given the recent words of warning from the City Budget Director about the sustainability of the city budget in 2023 and beyond.

An amendment to restore an expansion to the popular Community Service Officer (CSO) program by tapping a FEMA COVID response contingency fund, and that also covered an expected shortfall in Sweetened Beverage Tax revenues due to COVID-related business closures, passed by a strong margin. But ultimately that was the only proposed restoration of SPD budget that was adopted. Councilmember Pedersen offered an array of options for full or partial restoration by reducing the Revenue Stabilization Fund contribution; they all failed. Lewis offered a targeted amendment to add back in $2.7 million, by reversing the Council’s adjustment to SPD’s staffing plan that assumed 125 separations instead of 94; in a confusing and somewhat shocking vote, it barely passed when Councilmember Morales surprisingly voted “yes” (and a shocked Mosqueda, chairing the meeting, held the vote open and pointedly asked if anyone wanted to reconsider their vote), but later in the meeting Morales moved to reconsider the vote and flipped to “no” and the amendment ultimately failed by a 4-5 margin. In the meeting Morales claimed that during the original vote she had been distracted by her kids — chalk it up to the hazards of conducting city budget deliberations over Zoom.

Council President Gonzalez offered an amendment to abrogate 101 unfilled positions in SPD, a level well above its current staffing level but that created nearly $20 million in excess salary budget for SPD that Mayor Durkan had mostly repurposed for non-salary uses. As SCC Insight detailed last week, Gonzalez’s amendment had been mischaracterized, including in a press release by SPD Chief Diaz just an hour before the Council’s vote, and it scared off enough Councilmembers that the amendment failed.

All of the amendments related to tapping the Revenue Stabilization Fund contribution failed, including amendments unrelated to SPD’s budget: one that would have funded a free waterfront shuttle service, and one that would have expanded the capacity of the City Auditor’s office.

Item 198, from Herbold, which it its original form would have cut funding for the Center City Connector streetcar planning to pay for a city-wide hiring incentive program, took some interesting twists. Councilmember Strauss proposed an amendment-to-the-amendment to switch the funding source to the Revenue Stabilization fund contribution (preserving the streetcar funding); his amendment failed, and then Herbold’s original amendment also failed. So the streetcar funding survived, and the proposed city-wide hiring incentive program did not.

In the end, the only two substantive one-off amendments adopted by the Council on Thursday were the modification to the Mayor’s executive order on SPD hiring bonuses, and the restoration of the CSO program expansion.

Given the interest in partial restoration of some of the other cuts to SPD’s proposed budget, it’s possible that over the weekend the Councilmembers will find some additional loose change behind the couch cushions and bring forth a last-minute re-try on Monday morning. We may also see an amendment or two with minor technical corrections to other amendments, as the Council’s staff does all of the final assembly and reconciliation of the budget package.

The Council meets on Monday morning to handle last-minute amendments and vote the budget out of committee; then will reconvene as the full City Council on Monday afternoon to give final approval to the 2022 budget and send it off to the Mayor’s desk for her signature.

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