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‘A plan, not a percentage’ — Seattle’s reshaped 2021 budget proposal will defund police but not by 50%

The Seattle City Council has unveiled its plan to reshape Mayor Jenny Durkan’s 2021 budget proposal with notable cuts to police funding and increases in social services. It’s a compromise that seems to have support from some of those calling for reduced spending on police — and the mayor’s office.

“We are marching towards a plan, not a percentage,” Councilmember Debora Juarez said in a Tuesday budget committee meeting.

Overall, the council’s budget changes, led by Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, would bring Seattle Police Department funding to about $340 million in 2021. This year, the department’s budget totaled $409 million, making the possible cuts and transfers about a 17% cut. Activists and community groups including King County Equity Now have demanded the police budget be slashed by half.

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These cuts build on the approximately $60 million in transfers, like parking enforcement and the 911 call center, and cuts already proposed by the mayor. The council adds about $12 million to this through cutting a few dozen police positions that aren’t likely to be filled in 2021 and decreasing overtime among other small changes.

This cash would then be funneled into the participatory budgeting process pushed by the council.

The Mosqueda package again includes a request for 35 out-of-order layoffs in SPD, an ask that has faced controversy because city rules require the newest officers be laid off first and this could result in the newer, more diverse recruits losing their jobs. The council, instead, wants the police department to petition the Public Safety Civil Service Commission to allow for officers with histories of discipline to be laid off first.

In the wake of mass protests against systemic racism in the city, Durkan pushed a planned $100 million investment in communities of color. It remains unclear how she expected that money to be specifically used, with a task force of community leaders to give input on that spending. The council’s changes slash that investment to $30 million, but the other $70 million would still go toward communities of color.

Some of this money would be used to replenish the city’s emergency funds that have been tapped to fill coronavirus-induced budget deficits. The council plan would bring these reserves back up to $35 million, compared to just $3 million under Durkan’s proposal.

Another $30 million of it would be used for investments to blunt displacement through housing developments in areas near planned light rail stations and others; $18 million for a participatory budgeting process and the investments community members identify during that process; and $10 million for community-led public safety programs that would serve as an alternative to police response.

“This is not a political game,” said Mosqueda, who chairs the budget committee. “We have very important policies that we have engaged in in a very public way. We are making sure that we’re working to keep parks open, house our homeless neighbors, make sure people have a place to live and that we’re addressing the disproportionate impacts of the criminal justice system on our Black and brown neighbors.”

Despite tension between the council and the mayor’s office in the past months, Durkan did not take issue with these changes in a Monday statement, saying “I look forward to working with Council on these investments, and I hope Council will consider additional investments beyond the $100 million that reflect the $57 million in new revenue and proposed reductions to SPD.”

She added that “I’m optimistic that we’ve turned a corner and can make collaborative, data-driven decisions that advance our shared policy goals, including making significant investments in community.”

Durkan’s plan would lay off 17 workers in a variety of city departments. Mosqueda’s proposed changes would restore funding to stop these layoffs.

The council package also adds nearly $1 million to the city’s Department of Construction and Inspections in tenant outreach and education as well as funding for free eviction legal defense. The $460,000 for eviction defense would fund three or four attorneys as some worry that evictions could increase in 2021 as moratoriums expire and financial concerns continue due to the pandemic.

There is $2.8 million that would create two new villages to house people experiencing homelessness and $1.4 million in funding for a temporary tiny house village near a new light rail station in the U-District.

The council is aiming to make several other investments on the issue of homelessness, as well, including adding over $1 million to increase outreach services, $1 million for mobile crisis teams, $750,000 for rapid rehousing programs, $655,000 for 24-hour operations at shelters and $100,000 for a public sink program.

Another $1.8 million would be added to the Fresh Bucks program, a voucher system that enables low-income residents to buy fruits and vegetables. This funding would allow the city to provide vouchers next year to the over 3,300 Seattleites currently on the program’s waiting list. Councilmember Dan Strauss said this funding was his “top priority.”

The budget changes would add a third team to the city’s Health One program, a unit of social workers that work with firefighters to connect people in crisis with services, by next October.

The council’s budget also includes $100,000 for a Department of Transportation study of Capitol Hill’s public spaces to see how they can be better activated. The Office of Housing would also get $100,000 to fund pre-development for city-owned properties in the Central District that the council hopes would first be used as shelter and eventually affordable housing.

The budget committee is set to vote on the balancing package and its amendments next week with a full council vote expected for Nov. 23. Changes to the proposal can be made over the next two weeks before that final vote.

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