By Ryan Phelan, UW News Lab/Special to CHS
Concerns for affordable housing, homeless shelters, tenants rights, workplace protections and Indigenous Peoples Day stoked criticism of the mayor’s proposed budget at the People’s Budget rally hosted by District 3 representative Kshama Sawant on Saturday.
“This budget that Mayor Durkan has proposed this year is not even a business as usual budget,” said Kailyn Nicholson, a community organizer for Socialist Alternative, Sawant’s political party. “This budget is even worse than that. This budget is flat out regressive.”
The People’s Budget, hosted at City Hall, is a political movement that rallies yearly for progressive change in the proposed Seattle budget. Several speakers and attendees focused on affordable housing initiatives. Less than 1% of Mayor Jenny Durkan’s proposed budget is allocated for affordable housing, Sawant said.
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Conversely, the Seattle Police Department would get a 10% increase in funding. Much of this increase would go toward raises as part of the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild’s new contract with the city. The increase would push the department’s budget to $363 million, according to handouts Sawant distributed at the event.
“The mayor’s budget is extremely generous to some,” Nicholson said, “namely, to the police, who have been awarded over $30 million for computers in their squad cars and SWAT teams to militarize the streets of the Central District. It is also a huge waste of money when it’s been proven that investing in community-based safety and restorative justice programs is far more effective at reducing violence and crime in a community.”
Durkan’s proposed budget does outline $7 million to the Human Services Department for youth-safety programs in order to reduce gang violence, as reported by CHS. Additionally, it allocates $1.3 million for the reinstatement of a Community Service Officer program within SPD, which would fund a 12-member force of unarmed community police officers to resolve minor disputes and other non-emergency incidents.
The conversation at the People’s Budget rally also focused on the restoration of funding to SHARE, the Seattle Housing and Resource Effort. SHARE is King County’s largest homeless shelter network, run as a partner organization of homeless and formerly homeless people. Durkan’s budget would only fund SHARE through June 2019 and the city plans to close SHARE’s Licton Springs Village by March 2019.
Several other speakers emphasized the need to strengthen humane safety nets for the homeless, as well as tenant rights. Gina Owens, a leader in the Washington Community Action Network, told the story of her eviction and years living in shelters after she became disabled in a car accident. Mary Hackney, an activist with the Tenants Union of Washington State, voiced concern about the disproportionate impact of evictions on women and people of color.
“They can write the policies in a way that is more beneficial to the people than the corporate welfare,” Owens said.
Meeting attendees also emphasized the needs of women and people of color in regards to the proposed budget, including a demand for permanent, not annual, funding for Indigenous Peoples Day, said Shannon Morrison, an indigenous-rights activist and the leader of CANOES, an association of Native American employees of the City of Seattle. Ian Burns, an activist with the Socialist Alternative, called for the defense and expansion of women’s reproductive healthcare and the creation of an independent office within the city to investigate workplace sexual harassment and discrimination.
Ultimately, in the interest of achieving the progressive policy goals, two overarching criticisms of Durkan’s budget emerge, Sawant said.
“One is the lack of progressive revenues, but also the mistaken priorities of the mayor’s proposed budget,” Sawant said. “Why expand the police budget by such a huge extent and leave so very little for affordable housing? That does not make sense to working people.”
Progressive revenues could include greater taxation of Amazon and other corporate interests in Seattle, Sawant said. The repeal of the head tax by the Seattle City Council and Durkan counteracts the mayor’s claim that budget cuts were needed due to a looming recession, she said.
“This is what billionaires will always do,” Sawant said. “They will always threaten and bully people who are fighting for equality, and the response cannot be to back down.”
Speakers encouraged the crowd to continue fighting for the causes of affordable housing, homelessness, tenant rights and other issues at upcoming public hearings as the budget is amended and voted on by the City Council.
“Ordinary people want to fight for a different society,” Sawant said. “We can’t wait around for politicians to do it. We’ve got to do it ourselves.”
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