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Councilmember Sawant’s Response to Mayor’s Budget Proposal

Councilmember Kshama Sawant (District 3, Central Seattle) issued the following statement in response to Mayor Murray’s proposed 2017-18 operating budget:

“The Mayor, in his budget speech, said that he wants 2017 to be the year of ‘good governance.’ It is outrageous that his announcement comes in a meeting where the City Council, apparently under direction from the Mayor, has restricted public access to City Council Chambers with not a single member of the public allowed in.

“The Mayor’s speech contained many sentiments I agree with about ending homelessness and ridding Seattle of the insidious racial, economic, and gender divide. But once again, his actual proposal is a mostly business-as-usual, status quo budget that will do little to address the massive inequality in Seattle.

“Elected officials have an obligation to do everything in their power to make the city affordable to the workers who make this city run. We need a radically different budget, a budget that focuses on overcoming the chasm of income and racial inequality. Such a ‘People’s Budget’ would include: taxing the rich and big developers; funding affordable housing and social services; and building a world-class mass transit system.

“Earlier this month, racial, social, and economic justice organizers in Seattle scored one of the most important victories nationally since the Black Lives Matter movement began in 2014, with the blocking of the $160 million North Police Precinct from this year’s budget.

“Seattle’s political establishment arrogantly tried to force this bunker on the city. It would have been the most expensive police precinct on the continent. A grassroots movement, led by the Block the Bunker coalition, stopped the Mayor and the majority of the City Council from wasting $160 million of public funds, further militarizing the police, while we are facing homelessness and housing crises.

“But the struggle is not over. The bunker is still in the six year Capital Improvement Program. The best thing we can do to ensure that this project is permanently blocked is to use those funds in this year’s budget on everyday human needs.

“Last week, representatives from the Mayor’s office and Councilmember Juarez were still insisting that the $160 million in Real Estate Excise Tax (REET) funding that they intended for the North Precinct police building could not be legally used for affordable housing.

“This claim was disingenuous: This has been done in every budget in recent memory. Former Mayor Mike McGinn weighed in after the Mayor’s comments, tweeting that his administration ‘used REET to free up [the] general fund and protect human services in [the] Great Recession. This is a known strategy’ in City Hall.

“To confirm, I asked the Central Staff of the City Council to find solutions to the legal restrictions on this funding. They produced a rigorous 36-page memo detailing exactly how the $160 million originally intended for the North Police Precinct could be used to build affordable housing instead.

“The Mayor or any Councilmember could have compiled this plan, too, if they had the political will to do so. The simple truth is that it was easier for them to say no. That’s unacceptable.

“The Mayor said, ‘We need the state and federal government to step up and expand affordable housing capacity.’ I agree, but what’s stopping the city’s elected officials from doing their best with the tools they have at their disposal, while they have power?

“In 1967 Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘If our nation can spend $35 billion a year to fight an unjust, evil war in Vietnam and $20 billion to put a man on the moon it can spend billions of dollars to put God’s children on their two feet right here on earth.’ Today I say that if the Mayor and the majority of the Council can afford to spend $160 million to build one fancy building for a police department currently under a consent decree from the Department Of Justice for excessive use of force, we can afford $160 million to build 1,000 units of affordable housing for Seattle’s working people.

“That’s why I’m organizing a People’s Budget Town Hall with social, racial, and economic justice organizers, to help build a movement to demand a budget based on the needs of working and middle class people, rather than big developers and downtown business interests. Our first priority will be to reallocate the $160 million the Mayor had set aside for an unnecessary police palace to 1,000 affordable homes instead. I hope all of you will join me in Council Chambers at City Hall, on October 18, for our People’s Budget Town Hall, at 6:00 PM.”

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