On Friday, November 23, 2015, the Seattle City Council cast our final votes on the 2016 budget. The People’s Budget movement won a number of progressive budget victories by rallying behind amendments, and I was proud to vote in favor of them. But, even with these victories, the final budget package remains woefully inadequate. As a workers’ representative that was elected on a pledge to stand up against business as usual, I could not support the budget as a whole. For more, see my remarks below.
This agenda item adopts the full budget as amended. It’s not just the amendments that the Council voted on – it’s the budget as a whole that came from the Mayor, plus the amendments. It came to vote in Committee this morning. When I voted no at the time I made many of these points, but I would like to restate them here to be clear for the members of the public who weren’t here in the morning.
There have been many important amendments that have been made by the Council to improve the budget proposal from the Mayor’s office, and I’m really grateful to all Councilmembers for not only supporting progressive amendments that their colleagues have brought forward, but also for bringing forward their own progressive amendments which I have been happy to support.
I thank everybody who has been involved in the People’s Budget movement this year and last year. Our movement has been able to win a series of budget amendments again this year:
- We doubled funding for critical programs like Career Bridge;
- We doubled the funding for youth apprenticeship programs with priority hire;
- We doubled the funding for tenants education and organizing through organizations like the Tenants Union;
- We have commissioned now the study for commercial rent control;
- We have passed the funding for the YWCA homeless shelter; and
- We have done many other things – among which, two landmarks things have been:
- the $2.3 million in additional funding for homeless services (thank you, Councilmember Licata for your leadership on that);
- and we’ve also funded $1 million for ORCA passes for low-income middle and high school students (and I was really happy to work with Councilmember O’Brien on that).
The problem for me, as a workers’ representative, as a representative of the ordinary people of Seattle who have waited for decades for some real change – the problem is that we need to see things in their proper proportion. The culmination of two months of budget negotiations by the City Council amounts to a total of amendments of only around 2% of the City’s General Fund Budget – or 2/5ths of 1% (0.4%) of the total city budget, depending on how you look at it. It’s 98% the same as the mayor’s original budget proposal.
The room that the Council has had to make changes has been so small in relation to the entire budget. But the deeper issue is that it fundamentally fails to address the needs of working people. This year’s budget is another business as usual budget.
As I’ve said, I support the progressive changes that we have made at the Council level, but I do not support the regressive taxes our funding depends on, I do not support the inadequate funding of mass transit, I do not support a budget that fails to grapple with the housing crisis, and continues to nickel and dime human service providers. I do not support another year passing with the city taking zero steps toward taxing the rich and big business to fund human needs, rather than forcing ordinary people to carry the whole tax burden on their shoulders.
Mass transit in Seattle is another good example. There has been increased funding for improvement in mass transit, which I completely support. But the standard cannot be, “Is this more than last year?” The standard needs to be, “what would it really take to tackle Seattle’s carbon emissions, and what would it take to deal with climate change? What will it take to fix our daily traffic gridlock?”
Our homelessness and the crisis in affordable housing is another question. What is needed to ensure permanent good quality housing, or at least assured shelter space for all, should be the question. By that measure – the measure by which real people experience the misery of homelessness and economic eviction – the funding in this budget for affordable housing is woefully inadequate.
A budget as a whole that I would support would tax the rich and big business to end the housing crisis, to end homelessness, to begin the process of creating a world class mass transit system in Seattle. It would use the City’s bonding capacity to contract with every affordable housing nonprofit and government agency in the City to massively expand the City’s supply of affordable housing as quickly as possible, it would address bloated city executive salaries, it would prioritize job programs, mental health and drug treatment before the punitive aspects of the criminal justice system.
I was elected with a pledge to working and middle class people, to stand up against business as usual. Of course, while doing so, I am under no illusion that this budget will not pass – I know that this budget will pass today. But it is necessary for me to help hold this elected body accountable to the needs of working and middle class people in Seattle.
To get there, to fulfill our needs, we need to continue strengthening grassroots progressive movements. Our movement needs to elect an independent left-wing majority to the Council. We saw a live example of why we needed that today, with the vote against a very rational and very reasonable proposal for 12 weeks paid parental leave for City workers. We’ve seen from this year’s election results that the time when we will be able to elect a left-wing majority is fast approaching.
We need to make sure that we use concrete opportunities to get our voices heard. I would specifically mention the January 4th inauguration of the new Council as an occasion for working people to come to City Hall and claim it as their own.
In conclusion, I wanted to clarify that I voted YES on the budget amendments from the Council, but I will be voting NO on the budget as a whole.
I really look forward to working in the coming years with all Councilmembers – and all elected officials in the region – who are interested in making Seattle an affordable and livable City for all. And I look forward to building our movement.