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Libraries Win, So Do Our Children

Central LibraryThe positive approval of the special Libraries for All Levy this week was a strong affirmation of Seattle’s care for our children. The vote proved once again that Seattle voters are indeed amazingly generous and want to invest in the things that matter.

Now, starting next year, every day of the week, every week of the year, children and adults throughout Seattle will have a safe place to nurture their love of reading and learning. Public libraries represent a sanctuary of learning in every neighborhood. Public schools provide the same.  

I strongly believe public libraries and public schools need our enthusiastic support so that our children can thrive and grow into responsible citizens. Learning is the rock-solid foundation for economic opportunity that leads to good jobs and a successful life.

That’s why I worked so hard last year for passage of the Families and Education Levy that provides vital support to our schoolchildren most at risk academically. Seattle voters generously approved that measure for children as well.

You Deserve Results from the City Budget

Yet, I took to heart what some critics of the Library Levy said: Why is the City not funding such key priorities through the general fund budget? That’s a fair question that deserves an answer.

Part of the answer is the approval by Washington State voters in 2001 of Tim Eyman’s Initiative 747 (and adoption of it by the state legislature) which restricts property tax increases to only 1%.  The 1% property tax increase—the City Council routinely adopts the increase each year—often lags behind inflation. However, voters can raise the property tax more when they approve specific measures, such as the Libraries for All and the Families and Education levies. Since that time, we’ve seen a sharp rise in the number of voter approved levies.

The need to obtain voter approval for special taxing measures means we must be at the top of our game in wisely and effectively investing the public’s money. As chair of the Council’s Government Performance and Finance Committee, I can push for the solid performance measurement and reporting that you expect from your government

To increase this accountability, I am introducing a budget resolution requiring the leaders of city departments to justify any new programs or funding increases by proving effectiveness. Not just “inputs” (how many hours city employees work on a program) and not just “outputs” (how many people enrolled in a program), but the bottom-line “outcomes” a program is expected to achieve. For example, how many youth earned their diploma, how many unemployed residents obtained a good job, or by how much did street crime decline? This budget resolution is a simple statement of the City Council’s expectation that we should increase accountability, improve how we measure our investments, and do a better job of wisely and effectively using your tax dollars.

The Mayor will present his budget to the Council on September 24. We must adopt a balanced budget no later than December 3. That’s just 70 days to review the budget proposal and make whatever changes we feel necessary to benefit Seattle.

To keep informed about these important budget deliberations, please visit our City Council budget website. To share your priorities for Seattle, please contact me at tim.burgess@seattle.gov.

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