The Seattle City Council ended its grueling annual budget process Monday afternoon with an 8-1 vote, sending a spending package topping $5 billion back to Mayor Ed Murray for final approval. The council added just over $18 million (PDF) in spending to Murray’s original $5.1 billion budget, along with an additional $5 million to be spent on emergency homeless services this year. City Council member Kshama Sawant cast the lone dissenting vote on the final budget, saying it did not go far enough to address the urgent needs of working people
“… on balance the budget differs little from previous years, and fails to address the acute housing crisis, inadequate transit, and ballooning inequality and injustice permeating Seattle,” Sawant said in a statement.
Outgoing Council member and budget committee chair Nick Licata positioned Seattle’s 2016 budget as a response to federal cutbacks. Federal grants have shrunk from 62% to 26% of the City’s Human Services budget, a 58% decrease, while the City’s General Fund contribution to the Human Services budget has more than doubled, from 25% to 55%, according to a statement on the council’s vote.
Among all the programs and initiatives included in next year’s budget, spending on homeless services stood out as a defining feature. All told, the City Council approved more than $47 million in 2016 to fight homelessness — or, about 1% of its budget for the year. Following up on his declaration of a homelessness state of emergency in Seattle, Murray will be at a Seattle University forum December 2nd to further discuss the issue.
The full council convened Monday afternoon after a short morning budget committee meeting in the morning to consider last-minute amendments. Much of the debate focused on how best to expand paid parental leave for City employees.
Despite being rebuffed in an earlier meeting, Sawant introduced an amendment to set aside $1.5 million in extra property tax revenue to extend paid maternity leave for City workers from four weeks to 12 weeks. Since there was no plan in place, the funds would have been set aside until the policy was drafted and agreed to by the affected public employee unions.
The measure ultimately failed. While Council member Bruce Harrell added his support to the bill after being absent from last week’s meeting, Council member Jean Godden opposed it. Godden, who lead the fight for a four week paid parental leave for City employees, said Sawant’s measure was not fiscally responsible.
Concerned that the measure acted outside of the normal union contract negotiation process, Council president Tim Burgess said, “In city government, process is sometimes as important as policy.” Council members ended up approving a Burgess-backed measure to have the City study the expansion of paid parental leave and other benefits in a report due in July 2016.
Following the vote, the Mayor thanked the Council for their work and voiced support for studying an expansion to paid parental leave. “I am pleased the Council is working with us to accelerate and expand our Workforce Equity Action Plan. We recognize that providing enhanced benefits, such as paid parental leave, is one tool to achieve workplace equity,” he said in a statement.
Sawant was able to insert several amendments into the budget despite her vote against the package as a whole:
- Doubled the funding for Career Bridge ($400,000)
- Doubled funding for youth apprentice programs ($300,000)
- Doubled funding for the Tenant’s Union ($98,000)
- YWCA homeless shelter ($256,000)
- Funding for University District Urban Rest Stop ($155,000)
Teeing up what will likely be a major political battle in 2016, Sawant’s “statement of legislative intent” to convene a task force to study commercial rent control also passed.
However, council members also rejected several Sawant amendments key to the progressive budget plan she laid out earlier in the year including an additional $10 million in spending on homeless services, a study to create a LGBTQ community center on Capitol Hill, and funding for a municipal broadband pilot project.
Reflecting Seattle’s changing political and development landscape, the 2016 budget also included directives to significantly reorganize two City agencies. Under on amendment, the Department of Planning and Development will break into the Office of Planning and Community Development and the Seattle Department of Construction.
The Department of Neighborhoods would also reorganize itself around the new City Council districts under a budget resolution put forward by Council member Sally Bagshaw. There are currently nine district coordinators assigned to 13 neighborhood districts which now overlay seven council districts. The statement of legislative intent doesn’t necessarily require neighborhood districts match council districts, but instructs DON to study its options in a preliminary report due May 1st.