Seattle Budget Wrap-Up
The Seattle City Council passed the 2023-2024 municipal budget last week in a bitter 6-3 vote. CM Sawant cast her usual protest vote against a budget she characterized as an austerity budget, while CMs Pedersen and Nelson voted against the budget because…they were upset 80 unfillable positions were eliminated from SPD. They were also concerned that the Council will be continuing to practice basic fiscal oversight over a police department that ran completely amuck as recently as two years ago, as well as having a track record of habitually overspending their overtime budget. Quelle horreur.
Before we get any further, a correction. Both my reading of Seattle’s City Charter and consultation with others had, back in 2020, led me to the conclusion that the budget needed a ¾ vote to pass, which if rounding up, meant 7 out of 9 council members needed to approve it. However, since the budget passed with 6 votes last week, this understanding was clearly incorrect. Unless more comes to light about this matter, we can expect future budgets to require only 6 votes to pass.
Let’s talk some more about those 80 abrogated positions, shall we? The Seattle Times editorial board weighed in last week, saying:
Against this backdrop, council members Lisa Herbold, Dan Strauss, Tammy Morales, Debora Juarez, Kshama Sawant and Teresa Mosqueda flouted the mayor’s request and voted to eliminate 80 unfilled SPD positions. Mayor Bruce Harrell wanted these positions to support his effort to rebuild the department to 1,450 officers.
This ignores the fact that these abrogated positions are unfilled and will remain unfilled for several years. Those positions will remain unfilled regardless as to how the Seattle City Council feels about it because of simple mathematics; SPD literally cannot hire and train enough new officers to expand the department quickly, especially given the number of separations every year. 160 unfilled and still funded positions remain in SPD even after this abrogation, and CM Herbold estimates it will take EIGHT YEARS to fill 120 of these positions. That means that even if Council members wish to aggressively grow the police department, no additional positions will be necessary until 2030. Furthermore, additional positions are added to city departments all the time; this is standard practice, and the idea that Seattle council members will be unable to do this in 2030 (or whenever the need might arise) if they are in agreement as to the proper size of the department is absurd.
It is also worth noting the overall SPD budget will grow by around $15m in 2023 after shrinking for the last two years (2021 and 2022). The Council’s changes to SPD’s budget from the one proposed by Mayor Harrell at the end of September amount to a less than 1% decrease. Fiscal realities due to lower-than-expected city revenue meant there simply weren’t a lot of additional resources to devote to any part of the budget, including to a police department that is only expecting to gain a net of 15 police officers in 2023 in spite of funding hiring bonuses and an expensive media campaign. Unfortunately, this also negatively impacted investment in alternative public safety programs that are often both more effective in making people feel safe and more cost effective than hiring more police.
This was CM Nelson’s first budgetary vote, but why did CM Pedersen choose this year to put his foot down budgetarily speaking, given the above? Certainly the budget included much more controversial choices back in 2020, when he chose to vote in favor of it. One cannot help wondering if next year’s elections have something to do with this change in approach.
Other Seattle News
Seattle has released its legislative agenda for the next state legislative session, which begins in January. The following items related to public safety and the criminal legal system made the city’s agenda, among others:
- ending qualified immunity for police officers
- allowing police chiefs to lay off officers on the Brady list
- removing issues of “disciplinary action, appeals of discipline, subpoena authority, and any state reforms related to law enforcement” from collective bargaining
- supporting independent prosecutions of deadly use of force
- supporting more training for cops
- supporting “increasing the flexibility for local jurisdictions to allow civilian personnel to respond to 911 calls and low-level criminal calls, as in the CAHOOTS program”
- eliminating or significantly reducing the role of local law enforcement officials in immigration law enforcement
- supporting various gun laws, such as limiting or banning assault weapons and having a ten-day waiting period for purchasing a firearm
- supporting criminal legal system reform, including “decreasing mass incarceration and supervision, decreasing racial disproportionality, making the system more equitable, and ending the death penalty” (note no specific mention of solitary confinement)
- funding for behavioral health care and substance abuse disorder treatment as well as permanent supportive housing
While all of this is very interesting, mostly in seeing what made the cut and what didn’t, it’s worth noting the city’s legislative agenda as it pertained to public safety last year was barely addressed. That being said, the climate is considerably more friendly towards getting things done this year.
Meanwhile, both Will Casey at The Stranger and Doug Trumm at The Urbanist have called out the difficulties of progressive voter turnout in Seattle in odd years. Unfortunately, changing our local elections to even years would require a change in state law, but it is a popular idea, as is evinced by the success of the measure in King County in last month’s elections to move some elections to even years. Otherwise, Will Casey talked to political consultant Michael Ferkakis, who suggests, “If progressives want to have a shot at winning, they have to really focus on turning out low-turnout voters and having policies that are progressive but can’t be construed as radical to scare consistent voters.” Not the most inspiring strategy for progressives who want to get things done. Ferkakis particularly called out District 1 as a difficult district for a progressive.
The investigation into former OPA Director Myerberg is continuing to drag on in its messy way:
Further documentation reveals that the City plans to spend — or, at the time of this writing, has already spent — $50,000 on Seyfarth Shaw to “fact-find” for the OIG, despite the fact that the OIG is not looking at the formal allegations as articulated in Lippek’s original complaint. In other words, the City is apparently spending thousands of public dollars to fund a fact-finding mission based on a flawed investigatory premise.
Five cities in our region–Kirkland, Bothell, Kenmore, Shoreline, and Lake Forest Park–have agreed to band together to offer a regional crisis response that merges Kirkland’s program with the RADAR Navigator program. It will begin operation at the end of Q1 2023. Kirkland CM Black said about the program, “We are committed to reducing reliance on law enforcement as the primary responders to our community members experiencing behavioral health crisis and finding other ways to connect them to care and resources.”
As we near the end of 2022, it seems like a good idea to check in with the Mapping Police Violence resource to see how the US has been doing this year. US police have killed 1,074 people so far this year. There have been 13 days this year during which the police succeeded in not killing someone. Black people have been three times more likely to be killed by police than white people during the last decade, even though they are 1.3 times more likely to be unarmed. Only 1 in 3 killings over the last 6 years began with an alleged violent crime. 35 people were killed by police so far this year in Washington State.