My Final Comments on the 2017 City Budget

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On Monday, November 22, 2016, the Seattle City Council cast our final votes on the 2017 budget. Once again, the People’s Budget movement won a number of progressive budget victories. Most notably, our Build 1,000 Homes Coalition was able to wrest $29 million in bonds for affordable housing — funding that many Councilmembers had sworn they would never extend. But as a workers’ representative elected on a pledge to stand up to business-as-usual politics and defend the interests of ordinary working people, I could not support the budget as a whole. For more, see my full remarks below.

Thank you, President Harrell. I also wanted to start by echoing my colleagues: thanks to all of the Central staff members, led by Kirstan Arestad and Erik Sund, who did incredible work. I also thank Councilmember Burgess’ office for all the work that they put into making this Budget Committee work. I also want to thank all my staff, but especially Ted Virdone, who has done a lot of work, nonstop, to make sure that all of the work we’re doing with the People’s Budget movement goes forward.

I want to clarify that the two agenda items, 36 and 37, are items that are referring to our budget as a whole, not the amendments passed by the City Council. This is the budget as a whole for the City of Seattle over the next couple years. I intend to vote NO on this budget, consistent with my commitment to a People’s Budget that could urgently use the City’s resources to raise the quality of life for the hundreds of thousands of people in this city.

The previous votes that we have taken throughout the budget process have amended the mayor’s proposed budget in many important ways that I support, and in some cases have fought for, and in a moment I want to speak to those victories.

However, it needs to be noted that all the amendments, despite Councilmembers’ self-congratulatory words, are only on the margins. Unfortunately, the budget as a whole remains overwhelmingly the same business-as-usual budget that has failed to meet the needs of regular people in our city year after year.

This year’s budget, like last year’s, fails to seriously prioritize ending homelessness. This year’s budget, just like last year’s, fails to seriously prioritize ending the housing affordability crisis. This budget, like in the past, invests in an approach to public safety that continues to put a bulk of the City’s money toward locking people up, instead of investing in our communities to prevent crime in the first place. And this budget, just like in the past, fundamentally depends on taxing poor and working class people through regressive tax mechanisms, instead of taxing the super-rich and big business.

There is really no excuse to so thoroughly fail to meet human need in a city with such immense wealth, and therefore, as a representative of working people in this city, I cannot support this budget.

Almost 50 years ago, MLK 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.” His words from 1967 are, if anything, more meaningful today in a city where a single billionaire is financing his own spaceships, while thousands of people have been driven into homelessness, have overflowed the shelters, and are living on the streets.

While I cannot support the budget as a whole, I do want to acknowledge the progress that the People’s Budget movement, and the Build 1000 Homes Coalition have made over the last month:

  • We restored the funding to the L.E.A.D. program, which is an alternative to incarcerating people, that the Mayor cut from his budget.
  • We won more funding for programs serving survivors of domestic violence, funding for food for kids, and increased shelter hours for homeless people.
  • And as I mentioned earlier, we ended the corporate tax break Council gave to big banks doing international investment management services in 2009, now generating $2 million per year to help pay for social programs.
  • We finally won the funding for the equitable development projects, and thanks to Councilmember O’Brien for leading on that.
  • And we won many other things that will have a real impact on people’s lives.
  • Most importantly, we won $29 million for affordable housing. I thank all of the activists of the Build 1,000 Homes Coalition who worked tirelessly to make this possible.

And we should be crystal clear: The only reason we won $29 million was because of the power of that Coalition, our movement, and our fight for the full $160 million previously planned for the police bunker in the North.

While $29 million is only 18% of $160 million – and we should ask the question, “Why did the Council not have the political will to fund the whole project?” – it would be a mistake to underestimate how important this victory is. $29 million is a lot of money, and it is going to support the most burning need we have in Seattle today. It will mean at least 200 more affordable units. That means, if you look at it in human terms, almost 200 families with a home, and it will be all the difference to them.

And it is $29 million that the Democratic political establishment of this City did everything in their power to stop us from winning. The mayor’s office released multiple memos opposing it. Councilmember Burgess wrote an Op Ed against it, and the Seattle Times Editorial Board wrote two editorials against it, including one today.

Not only did we win $29 million for affordable housing, we did so with seven YES votes. Those of you in the 1000 Homes Coalition who have been calling council offices, doing marches and standouts, speaking in public comment, joining rallies, putting up posters, moving endorsements in organizations and community groups you are part of, and coming to coalition meetings, you know how hard fought for these seven votes were.

Councilmembers voted YES because they felt the pressure of the movement. But it is to be noted that only Councilmember O’Brien and I were willing to go against an establishment that is wanting to dig its heels in to reserve money to rebuild the North Precinct which, in my view, is completely unnecessary.

The note that we have to make for our movement is that the outcomes in politics depend on the balance of power between our movement and the level of opposition from the establishment. So a sober reflection is that a stronger movement could have forced more Councilmembers into prioritizing housing over the bunker.

But we should also note our victory: The movement was strong enough to force the establishment to do something they had sworn to never do, which is use bonds for housing. And this is not a small thing. It’s $29 million worth of bonds.

For everyone out there that wonders if it is even possible to fight Trump and his racist, sexist, right wing agenda, we should take heart from victories such as these. When we build a mass and united movement, we can win things that seemed unimaginable a couple months ago. That is how we won $15/hour, and that is how we won these $29 million, that is how we can defeat Wall Street interests, and also how we will defeat Trump’s agenda!

So, once again, thank you to all of the dedicated activists in the People’s Budget movement and the 1,000 Homes Coalition. You have demonstrated how movements can win victories.

I raise this because, as I vote NO on the budget as a whole, I think it is very important that we not lose sight of what we have won through our movement. I vote NO on the budget by voting NO on this item and the next agenda item.