My Response to the Mayor’s Budget

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On Monday, September 28, 2015, Mayor Murray presented his version of the budget for 2016. Once again, it falls far short of what working people need. Check out my response, and join me at City Hall on October 27 for a People’s Budget Town Hall to build the movement for a budget that reflects the needs of ordinary people.

Mayor Murray spoke about his vision of “a Seattle that is diverse, prosperous, and equitable.”

I appreciate him recognizing that, speaking about the need to address youth unemployment, and giving recognition to the young people in the audience who represent success stories.

I was also glad that he spoke out in recognition of the severe housing crisis, and the racial and economic inequality in this city. And the need to promote women- and minority-owned businesses, especially the smallest businesses.

But we do need more than rhetoric.

Unfortunately, we did not hear from Mayor Murray his concrete proposals, and, most of all, we did not hear what we need to hear most: Proof of the fundamental shift that working people need.

What we hear instead is mostly another “business as usual” budget, which means:

  • A continuation of skyrocketing rents
  • Economic evictions, and
  • A shortage of affordable housing

The Mayor’s proposals are lacking in urgency to address the housing crisis, including a half-billion dollars left on the table in linkage fees to make developers pay, and another billion in bonding capacity which could be used to build city-owned affordable housing units.

These budget proposals do not bring urgency to addressing growing income and racial inequality. The Mayor finds it difficult to say “Black Lives Matter,” and so does his budget. The Mayor, as I see from the highlights that have been released, has allocated $650,000 for youth jobs. I am not clear, at this point, if this is new money or not. Regardless, it is orders of magnitude too small.

City officials have just voted on the youth jail, myself being the only dissenting vote. That means potentially $200 million for locking up young people. I was just in a press conference with Dr. Sheley Secrest of the Seattle King County NAACP and Carl Livingston of the United Black Clergy who have highlighted the plummeting incomes of black households, how the Central District has been hollowed out of its black population, and the increase in crime and gang violence.

And I really appreciate Mayor Murray saying that the city has failed young African Americans here, but in order to make good on that, we need to fully fund youth job and apprenticeship programs. As an immediate step I propose that we double the amount currently spent on Career Bridge and YouthBuild.

While the Move Seattle levy, if it passes, will address important infrastructure needs, Seattle needs an urgent expansion of mass transit, feeder routes, increased frequency, and late night routes.

How can we explain this lack of urgency, other than as an utter lack of compassion?

I will carefully study this budget in detail, needless to say, but from the Mayor’s proposals today, progressive rhetoric is not matched in the budget with real numbers.

Unfortunately, it is not a surprise to me. We saw a similar thing happening last year. We’ve seen this in previous years. Corporate cash fuels elections in this country and in this city.

And at budget time, these same corporate donors expect from their representatives a return on their investments. For most of them, a return on their investment means continuing the status quo.

To overcome the status quo will require a powerful mobilization of working people to push back against the influence of big developers and large corporations. Therefore, we need to expand the People’s Budget movement that we launched last year.

I urge all people in Seattle to come to the second Seattle People’s Budget Town Hall that I’m planning, together with social and racial justice groups, on October 27 here at the Bertha Knight Landes Room, City Hall.

Just to mention some of the specific proposals, and what we would put forward as a People’s Budget movement:


The Mayor spoke about human services. I appreciate the fact that he mentioned setting up a 24-hour shelter. That is a good thing, and I am curious to see the details.

But last year we heard from the Human Services Coalition that it would require at least a $30 million increase to just provide a baseline for human services in Seattle.

Unfortunately, after one more year, it appears basic services will again face a multi-million dollar shortfall.

This budget will mean yet again allowing the disgrace of homelessness to continue in our city. This year’s one night count found a 21% increase in unsheltered homelessness. We need expansion. Specifically, I would say we need the full budget that the Seattle Human Services Coalition is asking for, which is many tens of millions of dollars.

But specifically, I would hold out two example programs that have worked well, and need to be expanded. One is the HOST program, which is the Homeless Outreach Stabilization and Transition program. It is a really important program on the street. The social service providers go out on the street, and reach people who are the most vulnerable, most exploited, who have a long history of mental health issues, and chemical dependency. This has been proven to work well, and the Downtown Emergency Service Center needs to be expanded.

Another program I would recommend expanding is the LEAD program, the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program. Activists all around the city are saying this is working, and that they need to be expanded. I know, particularly, that activists in Capitol Hill, including those of the Capitol Hill Community Council, have been suggesting that this is a good thing for the budget to include.


I would say that the elephant in the room here, as in past budgets, is the utter failure to tap into progressive revenue sources to secure the necessary resources that are not in the city’s treasury right now.

The city’s establishment has always responded, when I bring up a Millionaire’s Tax, that it would not be legal. I would challenge them on two fronts:

Let’s show the city’s will to change this legal relic. Let’s bring it to today’s world. Let’s bring it to the Supreme Court, just like we did on LGBTQ rights, just like we challenged charter schools, and that challenge was upheld recently by the State Supreme Court. Let’s act to move things forward. Let’s show real leadership.

But even if we didn’t want to do that, why hasn’t the establishment agreed to implement all of the progressive taxes that we have legal authority immediately?  These are ordinances that could pass, with no legal objections. The only thing that is stopping that from happening is a stunning lack of political will. I will specifically mention some of these options. They include:

  • Developer impact fees
  • A robust linkage fee would bring in over $1 billion over the next 10 years, as opposed to the proposal from the HALA Committee, which is a good step forward, but only provides $600 million in the best case scenario
  • Bring back the business head tax
  • Increase in the commercial parking tax
  • Excise Taxes on activities of big business and the wealthy

While pushing hard to shift the overall priorities, I will also work of course on very concrete changes like 12 weeks parental leave, an LGBTQ center the pilot project on municipal broadband, homeless shelters and much more.

Making this year’s budget match the rhetoric will require the active involvement of working people, from labor and community organizations, and from activists.

We need to reject the domination of big business and the super-rich over the priorities of this city.

I hope all of you will join me here, at the Bertha Knight Landes Room, City Hall, on October 27, for a People’s Budget Town Hall.