Final Decisions on 2016 Budget
The Mayor’s proposed budget provided us with a good start, including funding for a hospital-based gun violence intervention program at Harborview Medical Center.
I’m happy to report that all of the items I pushed for were adopted into the Council’s final package. These included funding to study an educational center for immigrants and refugees with foreign professional degrees, increasing dedicated funding for arts programs, support for small manufacturers, advancing a study to incentivize shared parking facilities in private buildings, expanding funds for the reentry and job assistance program Career Bridge, and language to direct City staff to work with Seattle Public Schools on student population growth planning.
I also have been working closely with community leaders and Councilmember Harrell to provide City support for a new “Opportunity Center” in southeast Seattle. This budget will provide nearly $2 million in seed funding for this project, which is expected to include job training, affordable housing, meeting space, or other amenities a community-led process will help determine.
The Council’s budget will increase the amount spent on homelessness prevention and intervention from $40 million to around $48 million next year. This is a massive increase in resources, but as important as how much we spend is how we spend it. City government spends more resources to help our homeless neighbors than any other city in the U.S. except for New York and Los Angeles, but we sadly continue to see the numbers of homeless on our streets rise.
The Human Services Department will develop a plan to spend these additional resources in the most effective way possible, but we must also try to enlist the support of our State and Federal partners. Rising housing costs, rising economic inequality and a severely underfunded mental health system all contribute to this complicated problem.
And the City will soon do much more by awarding more than $40 million in new funds to help build affordable housing projects.
Criminal Justice and Public Safety
This budget also funds new initiatives in juvenile justice reform, including creating a pot of money to be accessed by the communities of color most affected by this system. The City will also help fund a pilot program put forward by King County to provide a safe space to divert juvenile domestic violence offenders prior to booking in juvenile detention. Most juvenile domestic violence involves violence against family members, who often don’t want to book their children into detention but face no good options. This will give them a better choice.
We know that juvenile detention is not a healthy, rehabilitative place, and we must make every effort we can to lower the numbers of youth placed in detention.
Access to the Internet is becoming more and more essential to economic, cultural, and social life. The lack of access to technology for some communities also presents a huge equity issue. I believe in not many years s we will view Internet access like we view electricity or water now, an essential public utility. And there is no question that the private companies providing this service leave much to be desired.
What is more unclear, however, is the most appropriate path forward for possible City investments. A recent analysis showed that a City-funded municipal broadband network would not be sustainable without large subsidies from the City’s general fund. As technologies continue to evolve rapidly, I have not been convinced this is the best course.
In the meantime, I voted to provide funding for WiFi hotspots to be provided in low-income neighborhoods where access is more limited. I also supported increasing the number of WiFi hotspot devices available from the Seattle Public Library.
The City Council sped up completion of a workforce equity assessment for city government employees and asked the Mayor to report no later than July 1 with specific recommendations, along with a budget and timeline for implementation. This work began earlier this year when the Council awarded four weeks of paid parental leave for city employees, the first of several steps we have taken this year to create a more equitable workplace.
The Mayor also formed an equity taskforce with city employees to guide these efforts. We completed a compensation equity evaluation. And we identified other steps we could take to ensure gender and racial equity among city employees. This is good, important work. By July we will have identified the additional necessary steps and developed a specific plan for implementation.
Thank you voters for approving the new Move Seattle property tax levy! This gives us a much needed dedicated source of funds for street and transit improvements that will move people and freight more effectively around our city. I know this was a big ask and property taxes are not an ideal funding source, but they are one of the only major sources we have as a City government.
The Council also responded to community calls to fund transit passes for some low-income youth in Seattle Public Schools. I added language into the Council’s budget action to state our desire that the County consider giving free transit passes to children of adults who qualify for the ORCA Lift program. As our city continues to grow in population but not in square mileage, we must continue to encourage the next generation of city residents to be transit riders.
Those are some of the highlights.
I should note that while the City’s general fund is $1.1 billion dollars, much of the budget is taken up by mandatory spending on personnel costs for City employees. The amount of discretionary funding available to move around is much smaller; the Council’s actions center on these discretionary funds.
I believe this budget reflects the priorities and values of the people of Seattle. It funds many important new and innovative government programs, not to mention the basics like emergency response, electricity and other utilities, and transportation. However, its heavy reliance on short-term funding sources may make maintaining this spending in upcoming budget seasons more difficult for future Councils.