Seattle budget set for 2021: a new tax on big businesses, a new approach to encampments, and a 20% cut to $400M in annual police spending

An unprecedented budget in unprecedented times — Monday’s vote was conducted, like most proceedings during the COVID-19 crisis, virtually

Budget chair Mosqueda took issue with Sawant’s time with the mic and her characterization of how the city’s tax on big businesses came to be. “A really robust effort. I don’t want their effort to be erased by one person’s words and a revision of history,” Mosqueda said.

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

As smoke clears in Seattle from 2021 #defundSPD budget fight, state Democrats focus on bad cops

Monday, the City Council is set to hold its final vote on a 2021 budget for Seattle that will leave both #defundSPD and pro-police spending activists along with Mayor Jenny Durkan mostly unsatisfied. That is the nature of compromise.

In the city, this will bring a nearly 17% cut to the city’s 2021 policing budget along with important changes to reduce the size and power of the department by moving 911 and traffic enforcement operations outside of Seattle Police and spending more money on social, community, and BIPOC services and programs. Even amongst the loud cries of concern from business groups and pro-policing organizations like the Seattle Police Officer Guild, 2021 will actually see new SPD officers hired as the council is on its way to rejecting “No New Cops” proposals.

Looking forward, more progress in changing policing in Seattle could come from Olympia. Seattle-area state lawmakers say they are working on a suite of legislation that would look to improve police accountability across Washington through a more stringent officer decertification process, a public use of force database, and several other bills.

Local legislators, including Capitol Hill’s Sen. Jamie Pedersen, have been working since the summer and the protests over the police killing of George Floyd on the package that includes an overhaul of a rarely-used mechanism to decertify officers. The state’s Criminal Justice Training Commission decertifies 13 officers per year on average, according to a Seattle Times investigation. Across Washington, there are over 11,000 officers.

“When people violate that trust that we have placed with them, then we’re going to say ‘You no longer have the right to carry a badge and a gun on behalf of the taxpayers and enforce our laws,’” Pedersen, a Democrat who chairs the state senate’s Law and Justice Committee, said in a virtual panel last week.

The new legislation Pedersen is floating would remove roadblocks for the commission to take away officers’ certification, which he calls the “death penalty.” One of the biggest aspects of the bill would be changing the makeup of the commission, from one dominated by law enforcement officials to one with more citizen representation. Continue reading

Council rejects ‘No New Cops’ bid in 2021 budget, adding to Seattle’s list of #defundSPD compromises

After months of protest and activism for Black Lives Matter causes and defunding the police, the political accomplishments for the movements in Seattle continue to be a work in progress.

Thursday, a bid to freeze any new hiring at the Seattle Police Department next year grown out of the activist-backed “Solidarity Budget” effort and championed by Councilmembers Kshama Sawant and Tammy Morales failed as the council wrapped up a marathon two days of amendments to pound out the city’s final 2021 budget.

A final vote on the budget comes Monday when the hiring issue is unlikely to again hit the table.

The “No New Cops” proposal would have redirected $9 million in officer salaries to social and community service spending Inspired by the Solidarity Budget, a slate of spending proposals from a coalition of community and activist groups, only Morales and Sawant backed the proposed budget amendment Thursday as council president Lorena González and others argued that attrition fears pushed forward by Mayor Jenny Durkan and budget cuts to the department could hinder SPD’s public safety efforts. Continue reading

‘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. Continue reading

Override: Seattle City Council overcomes mayor’s veto of 2020 cuts to police budget — UPDATE

Note: Councilmember Juarez did not appear via video and spoke only during votes in Tuesday’s session

The Seattle City Council voted Tuesday to override Mayor Jenny Durkan’s veto of a 2020 budget rebalancing package that marked the immediate start of funding reductions for the police department with cuts of the salaries of 100 officers and the elimination of the Navigation Team that clears homeless encampments.

Going into the meeting, the council appeared likely to instead pass what it considered a compromise with the mayor’s office that scaled back the already modest reductions in the initial measure that council members had called a “down payment” on the way to deeper cuts to police funding. The move came as large-scale demonstrations against systemic racism and police brutality dominated conversation in the city. Protest leaders have called for an at least 50% cut to the Seattle Police Department budget, which totaled $409 million in 2020. Seven of the nine council members indicated support for such a reduction.

While council members Kshama Sawant, Teresa Mosqueda, Andrew Lewis, Dan Strauss, Lisa Herbold, and Tammy Morales as well as Council President Lorena González voted to override the mayor’s veto, council members Debora Juarez and Alex Pedersen voted to sustain it.

Sawant was the only member to vote against the original bill in August, calling it an “austerity budget” and Juarez was absent.

Seven votes were needed to overcome the mayor’s vetoes.

“When I look back in this moment in time, I want to be able to tell my daughter, who I am currently holding in my arms, that I did the right thing and that I voted on the right side of history,” González said. “My vote today to override the mayor’s veto is one action to move our city toward a more just society.”

UPDATE: “At the end of the day, after previous promises of a 50 percent cut to SPD, the reductions to the SPD budget are almost exactly those proposed by the Mayor and former Chief Best, but none of the other issues Council admitted are problems have been addressed,” Kelsey Nyland, spokesperson for Durkan’s office, said in a statement after the vote. “For weeks, the Mayor has worked with Council and offered solutions in an attempt to find common ground. The Mayor thought they had built that consensus on many issues in the compromise legislation introduced yesterday. While councilmembers have publicly stated they wanted to work with Mayor Durkan to address issues in the 2020 budget, they chose a different path.”

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Override or compromise? Seattle City Council holds special meeting to respond to mayor’s #defundSPD veto

The Seattle City Council will take a swing Tuesday in the ongoing fight to redirect spending on policing to community programs and social services in the city by either overriding Mayor Jenny Durkan’s veto of its defunding legislation passed in August — or forging a compromise bill that will preserve only a few key #defundSPD planks. Either way, the step will make any road to changing the Seattle Police Department a longer journey.

The council has scheduled a special meeting for Tuesday afternoon starting at 3 PM to vote on the possible override of the mayoral veto of the council’s rebalanced 2020 budget package. To get there under the rules of budgetary legislation, that will mean seven of the nine council members will need to vote to override.

Council president Lorena González will lead the charge saying Monday she intends to vote to override the mayor’s vetoes but also acknowledging the compromise package waiting in the wings.

“We may not always agree or win every battle, but I believe many of us share the same vision of collective liberation that is (and will be) on the right side of history,” González said. “The work to divest from a broken model of policing will be a long road, and it will be full of challenges.”

Monday, community groups called for the council to side together to override Durkan and support the original cuts. Continue reading

Seattle’s Black Lives Matter group calls for ethics investigation over City Council’s Black Lives Matter efforts

(Image: CHS)

Politically bombarded in its attempt to address protest demands with the start of a process to defund the Seattle Police Department, the Seattle City Council is now facing new criticism from the Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County organization.

The situation emerges in the midst of the confusing swirl of priorities from Seattle’s response to the summer’s protests and how public officials mix and match their use of “community” when it comes to policy and politics.

Also on display is the power of Black Lives Matter as a movement and its power for the organizations like the nonprofit that first formed here in 2018 and took the BLM name as it has fought for its versions of the cause.

The nonprofit is calling for a formal ethics investigation of the council’s actions related to the protests this summer including “potential pressure exerted on City employees and members of the public,” whether the council was “informed about safety issues around those protests,” and how the council was “influenced in recent budget and policing proposals.”

Its letter (PDF) to the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission calls for an immediate investigation over a dozen points including “whether members of the City Council did question African American or other people or color employed within the City of Seattle about SPD response and actions towards protesters around the East Precinct” during CHOP. Continue reading

A #defundSPD reset, Seattle mayor vetoes police department cuts — UPDATE

Mayor Durkan addressing a crowd of protesters in June as thousands were marching in the city’s streets

Activists and protesters who have continued to march for Black Lives Matter causes even after the City Council’s vote last week that members said would be a first step in defunding the Seattle Police Department are apparently on the right path.

The effort to defund SPD took a step backward Friday afternoon as Mayor Jenny Durkan announced she would veto the council’s 2020 budget rebalancing package to address a $300 million shortfall that called for around $4 million in cuts to SPD including about 100 officer jobs and the city’s Navigation Team charged with sweeping away homeless encampments. The vetoed plan also included about $14 million in new spending for community programs including community-led public safety organizations, youth-focused safety programs, and new participatory budgeting for public safety.

“We can and must find common ground on the vision for SPD that has been laid out by Chief Best and I,” Durkan said Friday. “We all agree that we need to make significant new investments in the Black community. We all agree that we need to reimagine policing and provide true community safety.” Continue reading

With plans for ‘a truly community-led public safety model,’ Seattle City Council approves police department cuts

The City Council set what many of its members said is the foundation for broader cuts to the Seattle Police Department Monday by passing a package of budget cuts that will include cutting 100 officers and making new investments in community-based organizations.

The package passed 7-1 with District 3’s Councilmember Kshama Sawant opposed, calling it an “austerity budget,” and Councilmember Debora Juarez, a member who has been critical of vast police budget cuts, excused for the day.

“What’s important today is that we haven’t just said ‘No,’” said citywide Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, who chairs the budget committee. “What’s important is that we have said we will walk with you, we will walk with you in community to recreate a truly community-led public safety model. What’s important is that we have not just stood in the way or blocked the road.”

“Today I voted against what is euphemistically called the City Council’s ‘Balancing Package’ to the 2020 budget, because the only balancing that is happening is on the backs of working people, especially in Black and Brown communities,” Sawant said in a statement after the vote.

“With my ‘no’ vote today, I affirm our movement’s unchanging demands: Defund SPD by at least 50% and tax big business and the rich, not working people, because we can’t pay and we won’t pay for this crisis – this crisis of the racist and bankrupt system of capitalism,” the Sawant statement concluded. CHS reported here on Sawant’s 50% proposal. No other council members joined her in support of the immediate 50% cut.

Monday’s vote follows a summer of protest in Seattle as Black Lives Matter demonstrators and community groups have for weeks demanded a reduction of at least 50% from SPD’s budget, a call that received support from a majority of the council.

The council documented the cuts and shifted spending plans in a press release following the vote:

Total initial cuts to SPD’s budget during the summer session are a down-payment for future potential reductions to the SPD budget.  These reductions equate to nearly $4 million in cuts, which actualized over a year will equate to an estimated $11 million.

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Seattle’s weird weekend of protest: Anti-gentrification rally and Uncle Ike’s boycott, pro-police protest at City Hall, ‘Let Us Worship’ concert in Cal Anderson

Friday’s cannabis protest

With reporting by Lena Friedman — CHS Intern

After a summer of protest, this weekend in Seattle might have been the strangest bout of activism yet with a demonstration targeting the city’s marijuana industry and most notorious potrepreneur getting things started and a huge — and hugely reckless — Christian concert in Cal Anderson finishing things off Sunday night.

In between, hundreds of people showed up outside City Hall to protest planned Seattle Police budget cuts, hundreds protested for those cuts and changes — and, by the time it was all over, there was broken glass again on Capitol Hill.

Things started Friday night with activists from Engage Seattle leading an “anti-gentrification rally and Uncle Ike’s boycott” encircling two of the Ian Eisenberg-owned cannabis shops.

“We are gathered here today to boycott Ike’s not because it’s successful, but because we are fed up with the racist lies, the hypocrisy, and the blatant and obvious and visible gentrification,” an organizer said in front of Uncle Ike’s flagship store on 23rd and Union, a prominent intersection where Black people were frequently arrested for selling marijuana and other drugs.

The Uncle Ike’s chain of pot shops continues to attract hundreds of protestors amid a growing campaign centered around racism within the cannabis industry. Continue reading