Seattle’s Balancing Package
Okay, let’s try this again! Welcome to Seattle’s budget committee meeting introducing the Chair’s balancing package.
Budget Chair Mosqueda released her budget balancing package yesterday morning, after delaying its unveiling a week to wrestle with lower than expected revenues.
Looking at the public safety portion of the budget, it lays out the following:
- 80 “ghost cop” positions to be abrogated
- the PEOs to remain in SDOT with increased supports until a study about their final destination can be run
- many small cuts in SPD: to the retention program (although the main program passed earlier this year remains intact); to the recruitment media plan; to police equipment; elimination of the gunfire detection system (ShotSpotter); and elimination of an assistant city attorney position that was to be housed within SPD, for cuts totaling around $2.84m. These cuts were all originally funded by empty positions SPD can’t hope to fill anytime soon.
- $4m additional to LEAD, which is less than CM Herbold asked for
- $300k for a gun violence prevention pilot run at Haborview through the Regional Peacekeepers Collective, which is half of what CM Herbold asked for
- $50k to develop an Affected Person’s program for those impacted by SPD violence
- $1m to expand mental health services in schools, in answer to Seattle Student Union’s demands for $9m to improve the ratio between counselors and high school students
- the dual dispatch emergency response pilot doesn’t get any additional funding until 2024, and the expansion of CSO duties isn’t funded
In addition, transportation projects took a big hit, unsurprising given the much lower forecast of the REET funds. Sweeps remain well funded. Given the poor revenue forecast, CM Mosqueda opted to use JumpStart funds to avoid an austerity budget for the next two years but chose not to permanently change JumpStart to become a General Fund slush fund in perpetuity as Mayor Harrell had wanted. She seems to be pinning her hopes on the task force looking for new progressive revenue for the city. You can read another overview of the balancing package here.
At the meeting on Monday, one could already observe the “tough on crime” part of the Council wringing their hands, and CMs Nelson and Pedersen quickly published an op-ed in The Seattle Times, complaining specifically about the public safety portions of the balancing package. The piece seems to claim that somehow Seattle’s homeless problem will be addressed by…keeping those 80 perpetually open SPD positions? moving the PEOs back into SPD? undoing the less than $3m in proposed cuts to SPD in the balancing package? It is an incoherent argument at best, given that meaningfully addressing the homeless crisis will cost hundreds of millions of dollars spent on HOUSING and supportive services, not SPD.
Given the hysteria over what amount to fairly small changes from the Mayor’s proposed budget, perhaps it is time to revisit WHY 7 out of 9 Councilmembers agreed in 2020 that as a general policy position, the idea of shrinking SPD might have some merit:
- In response to the mostly peaceful George Floyd protests, SPD indiscriminately used less-lethal weapons such as tear gas, pepper spray, blast balls, and flash bangs, as well as using their bicycles as weapons and punching and kneeling on the necks of people who had been arrested. They did so night after night, at protest after protest. The OPA were contacted over 19,000 times between May 30 and the end of 2020 with complaints about police behavior at protests.
- In fact, SPD were so extreme in their behavior that the Court granted a temporary restraining order against SPD and their use of these weapons in June 2020, and then in December 2020 found SPD in contempt for protests in the preceding August and September.
- The City of Seattle also withdrew the motion “to terminate most of the Consent Decree” on June 3. 2920 because of community outcry and SPD’s egregious use of force, a consent decree which has now been in place in Seattle for over TEN years.
- SPD were noted to be specifically targeting medics, legal observers, and journalists with violence and arrest, including journalist Andrew Buncombe, who wrote about the experience for his paper
- The protests were marked by both a lack of communication from SPD and the Mayor’s Office (for example, pertaining to the evacuation of the East Precinct, for which no one would take responsibility) and flat-out lying, for example in the case of the Proud Boys ruse executed by SPD and the SPD press conference on June 10, 2020
- The public later discovered text messages from the period in question had been illegally deleted from the Chief of Police’s phone, the Mayor’s phone, the Fire Chief’s phone, and several other SPD command staff members’ phones. Former Chief Best later admitted she had gone in and manually deleted some of her texts
- A strong coalition of protesters came together to demand cuts to SPD and investments to address the root causes of violence, meet community members’ basic needs, and begin to address the systemic racism that has been at play in our city since its founding
And yet here we are, a little over two years later, arguing over less than $3m, the civilian PEO unit staying in a civilian division, and 80 SPD abrogations that SPD has no way of filling for years to come. Meanwhile, the much small 911 dispatcher unit is undergoing 26 abrogations in the same budget, a move that hasn’t caused an outcry even though the “tough on crime” proponents make frequent complaints about increased 911 call response times. This is because abrogation of positions that cannot be filled is simply good fiscal practice.
The last public hearing on the budget was held tonight beginning at 5pm. You can still email council members with your thoughts on the balancing package; here are a few scripts. The next round of amendments, which need to be self-balancing, will probably be released towards the end of this week. You will have the opportunity to make public comment on these amendments on Monday, November 21 starting at 9:30am (signups beginning at 7:30am), after which the amendments will be voted upon.
The budget committee will vote on the entire budget on Monday, November 28, and the full council will make their final vote on Tuesday, November 29.
Carolyn Bick reported today that the OPA may have broken city and state public records laws by deleting emails they were legally required to keep. Given the “missing” text messages of 2020, it is perhaps no surprise that other city departments will now follow that precedent, secure in the knowledge that we don’t currently have a city culture of transparency or accountability and that they won’t suffer any consequences for improper actions.
UW graduate student Matthew Mitnick announced his run today for the Seattle D4 council member seat currently held by CM Pedersen.
The King County Council voted on the 2023-2024 biennial budget today, which passed unanimously.