The Seattle City Council passed the city’s budget for 2022 on Nov. 22 on an 8-to-1 vote, maintaining most cuts to the Seattle Police Department (SPD) and investing $194 million in public housing.
The sole “no” vote was Councilmember Kshama Sawant, who has historically voted against every city budget while in office. However, multiple councilmembers noted during their comments that despite their “yes” vote, the budget was not what they hoped it would be.
“I’m voting in favor of this budget today and I appreciate the process that has gone into it, but I do want to signal that — for all of us here on the council, I don’t think that I am speaking just for myself — to vote in favor of this budget does not necessarily signify agreement with every component,” said Councilmember Andrew Lewis.
The budget invests heavily in affordable housing and homelessness services, in part by tapping the JumpStart tax funds, a payroll tax on large businesses championed by Councilmember and Budget Chair Teresa Mosqueda in July 2020 as the pandemic raged.
Throughout the budget discussions, which lasted roughly two months, Mosqueda repeatedly reinforced that the payroll tax is one major reason that the city did not need to pass a budget loaded with cuts, unlike other municipalities across the nation that are struggling to recover from the coronavirus closures in 2020.
“The Council 2022 budget responds to these most pressing crises facing our city in the wake of COVID and in the wake of rising income inequality by investing a historic amount of money in affordable housing and sheltering more of those who are experiencing homelessness and ensuring equitable economic recovery,” Mosqueda said.
The budget also makes reductions to the SPD budget to the tune of nearly $10 million. The original figure was roughly $10.8 million, predominately by assuming higher rates of attrition within SPD than the mayor’s original proposal, but the council chose to restore some funding for the Community Service Officer program’s expansion.
In her comments, Council President Lorena González said that the council did not go far enough in reclaiming nearly $20 million from the mayor’s budget proposal for SPD that funds unfilled positions. She had proposed a budget amendment to cut funding for more than 100 empty positions in the department.
“Alas, the future council will continue to struggle with holding the police department accountable to spending within its limits, in large part because of the failure of my abrogation amendment means the future mayor and permanent chief will have the budget by which to hoard nearly $20 million worth of general fund dollars during a historic, once in a lifetime, global pandemic that continues to ravage our most vulnerable community members,” González said.
Mayor Jenny Durkan, interim Chief Adrian Diaz and incoming Mayor Bruce Harrell all spoke out against the cuts to SPD in the weeks leading up to the final budget vote. In a two-minute video released on Nov. 18, Diaz called the proposed cuts “devastating” to the public safety system and “demoralizing” to the police force.
“Right now, we have less officers than we need — and even if there were alternative response models — they currently aren’t in place, and are at least a year away,” Diaz said in the video.
Durkan submitted her initial budget proposal at the end of September, giving councilmembers and Central Staff roughly eight weeks to mold the document into a final budget for passage.
Notably, the mayor’s budget rearranged funding to deploy tens of millions in JumpStart funds to priorities not listed in the spending plan approved by the City Council and using one-time federal funds that flow from coronavirus relief packages to replace the money.
Mosqueda put that money back in her initial rebalancing package by swapping out federal funds and a surplus of real estate taxes to make up for the difference.
Read more of the Dec. 1-7, 2021 issue.