2013-2014 City Budget: Listening Closely and Investing Wisely
This afternoon, the Mayor will propose to the City Council how he believes we should spend the nearly $1 billion in our city’s general fund budget. He makes his presentation at 2 p.m. in City Hall. You can attend and be part of the audience or watch it on the Seattle Channel.
As chair of the Council’s Budget Committee, here’s how I will evaluate the Mayor’s proposal:
- Does the budget focus on your priorities and the basic services city government is obligated to provide? Are we getting our core work done on your behalf?
- Does the budget fund programs that work and achieve the desired results? Are we spending wisely and effectively?
- Does the budget reflect our shared values for fairness, opportunity for all, justice and protecting the most vulnerable?
- Does the budget advance our quality of life? Among all the choices we face, are we strategically focused on spending that will do the most good?
Listening to You
When deciding how to spend your tax dollars the most important thing we can do is listen. My staff and I have been attending community meetings and listening to residents throughout our city. Most folks are busy with their jobs and families and have not yet been able to voice their views. The good news is that there are many more opportunities: You can attend our main public hearings at City Hall (October 4 and October 25), send us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or take our on-line budget survey today.
- What priorities do you believe local government should focus on?
- How safe do you feel in your neighborhood?
- How satisfied are you with the city government services you receive?
- Do you believe city government is responsive to the needs of Seattle’s most vulnerable?
Please visit our budget website for more opportunities to be informed and be involved: http://www.seattle.gov/council/budget/.
Funding Only What Works
Earlier this year the budget forecast for next year was looking pretty gloomy, but the Mayor’s Budget Office recently signaled there would be money for new investments. Before we rush to launch new programs or expand current ones, however, I believe we must see clear and independent evidence that our investment will produce the desired outcomes.
Last week, the Council passed Resolution 31404, legislation I introduced that will frame our budget analysis by asking the following questions about new investments:
- What are the long-term and measurable goals (outcomes) of the proposed program?
- What is the gap between the current situation (status quo) and the goals?
- How effective will the program be in making progress toward the goals?
- How will the program’s progress be measured to prove whether it achieved results?
Public safety is an important example. Earlier this month our City Auditor and the Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy at George Mason University published a report that verifies what we discovered last year: we are spending millions of dollars on over 60 crime prevention programs, but we can only be sure a handful work well. The Mayor’s budget must begin to address this gap between research and practice. It should set up independent evaluations to confirm whether programs achieve their goals, stop funding programs that do not work, and increase funding only for programs that do.
We should be funding programs with clear and independent evidence of success. And we should stop funding programs that don’t work so we can free up money for the successful programs.
Here’s a strong example: Nurse Family Partnership (NFP).
I pushed to increase funding for this program last year and my committee received an update on its progress two weeks ago. NFP is a program that sends specially-trained nurses into the homes of first-time moms living in poverty. The nurses help the mom early in her pregnancy and continue to visit until their child reaches age two. The program has been operating for more than 30 years and it is one of the most tested and most successful programs in the country.
The results of NFP are clearly documented—a decreased likelihood of criminal involvement by both the mother and child, better academic outcomes for the child, stronger economic stability for the mother and lower government costs. Independent reports rank NFP as among the most effective and most efficient interventions possible to improve child welfare and prevent crime. Yet, our current funding of the NFP is not enough to reach all the eligible moms in Seattle. We can and should expand this program.
As the Council’s budget process kicks into gear, my colleagues and I will listen to you and ask the hard questions about new spending. After all, it’s your money. Together, let’s make sure we invest in what works.