Challenged and inspired by months of Black Lives Matter protests — including a last minute Sunday night push, the Seattle City Council Monday approved an unprecedented new budget for a major American city including key revenue from a new tax on big businesses, tens of millions of dollars shifted to community and social services, an end to the city’s recent history of encampment sweeps, and a near 20% cut to the city’s police force spending including a last minute $2 million slice to further rein in the department’s growth — all while in the grip of a global pandemic.
“There are aspects of this Budget which are of critical importance, that a year ago we couldn’t have imagined as necessary as they are today,” citywide councilmember and the chair of the budget committee Teresa Mosqueda said in a statement. “I imagine we will have to continue to make tough choices next year, and ensure our Budget is fiscally responsible while providing funding that serves our most vulnerable residents.”
But it was also a day for the familiar. Kshama Sawant, council member for District 3 representing Capitol Hill and the Central District, voted against the massive $6.5 billion package as she has on every annual budget during her three terms of office.
“In the middle of a pandemic and a spike in COVID infections, in the context of the worst recession for working people since the Great Depression, Democratic Councilmembers will be carrying out brutal austerity,” Sawant said in a statement following the vote.
As usual, Sawant stood alone.
Approved 8-1, the 2021 budget will bring a cut of around a fifth of the city’s more than $400 million annual outlay in police spending along with important changes to reduce the size and power of the department by moving 911 and traffic enforcement operations outside of SPD and spending more money on social, community, and BIPOC services and programs. While a larger “No New Cops” bid was voted down in committee, Monday’s final budget package included another $2 million reduction to SPD designed to curtail the department’s hiring in the new year.
The compromises between the calls from months of Black Lives Matter protests and Mayor Jenny Durkan’s push to maintain SPD staffing levels have apparently resulted in a budget the administration can live with. Monday night, the mayor said she would sign the newly approved legislation. Continue reading