Mayor’s 2013-2014 Budget in Recovery Mode

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On Monday, September 24, Mayor McGinn submitted his 2013-2014 budget proposal to the Council, and the Council will spend the next two months reviewing and modifying it.  We are legally required to adopt a budget for 2013 by December 1.  Under the two-year budget cycle, we also “endorse” a budget for 2014, which will go through an abbreviated review and formal adoption a year from now.

The Mayor’s proposal is basically a good news budget.  A combination of effective budget discipline over the last two years and an economic recovery that is stronger in Seattle than in most of the country has stabilized our financial picture and allows room for reinstating some previous cuts and adding a modest number of new program activities.

The Mayor’s package projects General Fund revenues increasing about $30 million per year over the next two years, just over 3 per cent.  While this is slower growth than in a typical recovery, there are also new resources from utility rate increases, construction related revenues, the successful library levy, the use of accumulated fund balances, and continued work on making government more efficient.   Together, these factors not only create a stable budget but allow restoring almost all of the money used from the Rainy Day Fund to balance the 2009-2011 budgets.

This is a big turnaround from the situation projected as recently as last spring.  Budget analysts are typically pretty conservative, and were understandably reluctant to report good news until there was enough evidence in actual collections this year from sales tax, real estate excise, and business taxes that money was actually coming in at a faster pace than during the recession.  The situation reflects the fact that the city’s budget has been managed well, and both the Mayor and Council can take some credit for Seattle’s financial health.

While this budget is strong enough to include some additions, such as more police officers, more street paving and transit work, and some increases in human services, I want to give kudos to the Mayor and his staff for continuing to push and implement some tough cost cutting and efficiency measures.  These include management efficiencies in the Fire and Human Services Departments, a number of improvements in the city’s property management and administrative functions, and specific steps to shore up areas of future concern.  This includes increasing both the city and employee contributions to the retirement system and developing a new approach for retirement for future employees.  We have to remember that this is still a lean budget, that the City’s future requires good stewardship, and that we must continue to make city government more efficient and responsive.

We will know more about the details in a few weeks, but here are some issues that I will focus on:

  • Celebrating the good news for the library and making sure it stays in the budget!  Thanks to the voters, next year’s library budget will increase by about 30 per cent.  I want to make sure that we keep our promise to sustain general fund support.
  • Taking a careful look at the Parks Department budget.  Parks has taken the most cuts of any General Fund department in recent years (such as major reductions in community center hours), and some of those cuts are painful.  We can’t fully restore the Parks budget in the foreseeable future, but we must create a plan, as we did for the library, to put parks on track to being fully funded.
  • Looking at additional funds for critical human services priorities, especially emergency food programs and programs to combat domestic violence.  While Seattle has maintained such programs better than almost any other government, and the Mayor has proposed some increases for domestic violence work, cuts in federal and state funding have left too many families at risk.  I want to take a hard look at how we can make these an even higher priority.
  • Making sure that we not only push city efficiencies, but that we focus on emergency preparedness and on economic development efforts such as business permit consolidation that will build Seattle’s resiliency for the future.
  • Supporting planning and design for High Capacity Transit in additional priority corridors.
  • Including adequate resources in the Department of Planning and Development to ensure that we can effectively implement our Comprehensive Plan and continue support for Neighborhood Plan Implementation.

I will report again on the budget later in October when we know more about our options.