The push for Black Lives Matters and #defundSPD goals beyond 12th and Pine moved back into the Seattle City Council’s chambers Wednesday with the political battles to reshape the city’s budget in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis moved to the next stage overshadowed by SPD’s morning clearance of the protest zone around the East Precinct,
The #defundSPD budget fight is set to shape up as the council’s budget committee digs in on Mayor Jenny Durkan proposal to make $20 million in midyear cuts to the Seattle Police Department budget — about 5% of the department’s $409 million budget.
This week’s debate will be centered on filling the expected massive hit to tax revenues brought about by the COVID-19 crisis as the council works to shape Teresa Mosqueda’s plan for a tax on big businesses to help Seattle overcome its forecasted budget shortfalls due to COVID-19 and to fund affordable housing, equitable development, and economic support for small businesses. The session will include discussion of more than 20 proposed amendments to the proposal.
The proposal pushes aside the Kshama Sawant-Tammy Morales plan for a larger $500 million a year tax.
The city is facing budget shortfalls which could see the $1.5 billion general fund fall $200 million in tax revenues this year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. City budget director Ben Noble anticipates $233 million in spending in response to the pandemic. The mayor’s office says it needs $378 million in additional revenue to balance the budget this year.
“I cannot highlight enough how difficult this is going to be,” Noble said last week. “It is inevitable in my view that we will end up with less city service and the folks who enjoy and rely upon those services will feel that pain. We’re going to feel it in lots of ways across the city individually, collectively, and alike.”
The tax proposal from Mosqueda has support from a majority of the council but the budget committee chair’s proposal has not received the support of the mayor, who outlined changes to the budget that include the use of state and federal aid, voter-approved levies, and the city’s rainy day funds. Noble did note, however, that Durkan was “looking at” progressive revenue options.
Durkan’s proposal also includes $5 million for mentorship programs for young people of color. The mayor’s presentation adds that she has committed to investing $100 million in the 2021 budget in communities of color. What that would look like is unclear and those investments will go through a community engagement process this summer.
Durkan, meanwhile, is proposing $20 million in midyear cuts to the Seattle Police Department budget, which amounts to about 5% of the department’s $409 million budget, or 10% for the rest of the year since it’s the end of June. Noble said this is the largest budget cut of any city department, which is consistent with it being the largest department in the general fund.
Additional options for reductions to the 2021 SPD budget are being developed and the current budget proposal includes redirecting $4 million initially meant for a second North Precinct. As Erica C. Barnett reports, the proposed cuts are only $4 million higher than the internal proposal Durkan made a few weeks ago before protests against systemic racism and police brutality made their way through the city.
The cuts also mean that spending on vehicles and IT will be frozen as will the hiring of sworn officers in 2021 pending conversations with community members for a new staffing model in line with public safety priorities.
Durkan’s budget presentation notes that she has asked SPD to prepare models for what budget cuts up to 50% next year could mean for community engagement. A 20% cut would equal a reduction of 406 full-time equivalents; 30% would equal 616; and 50% would equal 1,036, according to SPD’s executive director of budget and finance Angela Socci.
“We’re certainly considering all options at this point,” Socci said last week.
Personnel expenditures represent nearly 75% of the SPD’s budget and the 2020 adopted budget for the department allows for 2,187.35 full-time equivalents.
Demonstrators have pushed for a 50% cut to the department’s budget and for that money to be redirected to community-led organizations. Several council members have also indicated support for such reductions.
“I think at some point the council has to say to the Seattle Police Department ‘your budget is now no more than $200 million,’ which is already too much because 50% is the at least that we’re working with,” District 3 council member Kshama Sawant said. “It’s your job to figure out how you’re going to use those funds in a way that actually protects people rather than in a way harmful.”
Nearly 1,300 SPD employees were deployed in connection to demonstrations between May 29 and June 9 for a total of 72,619 overtime hours at a cost of $6.3 million. Council member Lisa Herbold, who chairs the council’s Public Safety & Human Services Committee, called this a “extremely large number.”
“I just wanted to note how stunning it is to see how much money could be made available for social needs if the police are not given the dollars to brutalize communities of color and protest movements,” Sawant said.
The department has also estimated it has spent over $98,000 this year on riot gear and crowd control weapons, such as tear gas, pepper spray, and flash bangs. In 2019, the department spent upwards of $223,000 on such equipment.
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