Mayor Harrell Has No Plan to Prevent Budget Austerity Next Year

Guaranteed Basic Income panel:

If this week’s newsletter seems a bit lean, it is because I am spending large amounts of time preparing for Solidarity Budget’s upcoming Guaranteed Basic Income panel. And I hope you’ll consider attending!

When: Tuesday, October 10th, 6-8PM

Where: Rainier Arts Center, 3515 South Alaska St, Columbia City

Food will be served, and I’ll be giving a short presentation on Solidarity Budget and GBI. Then we’ll learn more from a truly amazing line-up of panelists, local experts with lots of knowledge and experience with GBI.

You can RSVP here. If you can’t make it in person, the recording will be available here.

Seattle Budget News:

We’re all discussing Mayor Harrell’s proposed 2024 budget. Released last week, the proposed budget stays largely true to that approved by the City Council last year, but it wouldn’t be budget season if there weren’t some interesting nuggets buried in there. 

Probably most noteworthy is the failure of this proposal to address the large revenue shortfall we’re expecting beginning in 2025. The city could easily be short $250 million in the 2025 budget, and that’s only the beginning of several years of projected shortfalls. 

In order to address this, the city has two main choices: to cut, aka adopt an austerity budget, or to pass new progressive revenue. The Mayor hasn’t proposed any new progressive revenue and says he wishes to leave that problem to next year’s Council. The problem with this approach is that any new progressive revenue passed will take some time to implement and begin to collect, which means if we wait until next fall to discuss this, it will already be too late for any measures to meaningfully impact 2025’s budget. 

And making $250 million of cuts in 2025’s budget will be a painful process that will likely result in fewer services, less money for housing in particular (as the Mayor seems likely to raid JumpStart tax revenues to staunch the bleeding), and potential layoffs for city workers. 

Worse yet, the city will have to turn around and deal with a similarly sized shortfall in the 2026 budget.

Also in this budget proposal are funds for SPD to use Shotspotter, now rebranded as SoundThink, an ineffective gunshot location technology that does nothing to prevent gun violence and disproportionately impacts poor communities of color. If this sounds familiar, it’s because we defeated a similar proposal last year, but apparently the Mayor’s Office felt ready for some Groundhog Day-type antics.

The proposed budget also includes funding for what appears to be 213 ghost cops, or positions for sworn officers within SPD that the department has no plans or ability to fill. This continued position authority, not generally given to any other department, allows them access to their own private slush fund for unfortunate ideas like Shotspotter and officer hiring bonuses that don’t appear to actually work. 

Glaringly absent from the budget is any additional funding for diversion services as was obliquely promised during the discussion about the new War on Drugs legislation passed last month.

The budget also includes increased funding for the city’s dual dispatch alternative response pilot, which I wrote about at greater length this week over at The Urbanist

City Council will be meeting for three issue identification sessions around the budget next week, and there will be a chance to give public comment before the first one, at 10am on Wednesday, October 11. As always, you can also email your councilmembers and let them know your budget priorities. 

Other News:

The SPD officer and SPOG VP Daniel Auderer, who was caught joking about Jaahnavi Kandula’s death, has been moved off the streets and assigned to review red-light camera footage. The CPC has called for Auderer to be put on administrative leave without pay while the OPA investigates his case.

Last week Mayor Harrell released his executive order pertaining to the new War on Drugs legislation passed last month. Notably, he defines harm as pertaining to the impact on the ability of others to use shared public space as opposed to actual physical harm of another individual, which seems to confirm this new legislation is mostly another mechanism of control and criminalization over those who are unhoused.

As Publicola reports:

Harrell’s order is mostly suggestive rather than prescriptive. Officers who believe a person’s drug use inherently threatens those around them can decide, based on their training and “the totality of the circumstances,” to arrest a person or attempt to divert them to LEAD, the city’s primary diversion program. The number of arrests that officers will actually make is constrained by the booking capacity of the downtown jail, which is severely limited due to a shortage of guards.”

The executive order also requires outreach providers to create a “by-name list” of people significantly affected by the opioid crisis in a certain area of the city, which some advocates say is an inappropriate use of such a list.

In addition, the order minimizes the changes to the legislation made by Councilmember Nelson that would have given officers additional discretion over arrests.

Finally, the Stranger reported on the tragic story of Thomas J. Sturges. Ruled incompetent to stand trial due to mental illness, Sturges waited in the King County Jail for almost a year for the state to pick him up for competency restoration, his mother unable to afford to pay his $15,000 bail. Once a hospital “restored” him, he was returned to King County Jail in June of this year. 

The health department was prevented from meeting with him for a few months because of extreme understaffing, even though he needed to see them in order to resume taking medication for his mental illness. By August 27, he was transferred back to the hospital because he couldn’t stop vomiting and had lost almost half his body weight. At his most recent hearing “the judge noted he couldn’t appear because ‘he was severely malnourished in jail.’”

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