The Seattle City Council has begun issue identification for various portions of Mayor Harrell’s proposed budget. First up on Tuesday was a general discussion on how the proposed budget is being balanced, including the changes in how the Mayor is suggesting JumpStart funds be used. You can find a detailed overview of this first day of discussions over at Publicola, which I recommend reading in full to understand all the nuances.
As we’ve previously discussed, the City is facing a deficit of about $141m for 2023. And the trend of the City having greater expenses than revenues looks like it will continue for the next several years at least. So the question becomes, how do our elected officials address this gap?
Mayor Harrell’s answer appears to be by using JumpStart tax revenues, for which there is a specific spending plan, to make up the difference. In order to do this, the laws governing the use of this tax would have to be changed, and Mayor Harrell is proposing to do so not just temporarily while the City identifies other progressive revenue streams (for which they’re putting together a work group that is supposed to have recommendations to put before the Council by May 2023), but in perpetuity. As Central Staff said in a memo:
“the proposed policy change … could result in permanently backfilling revenue losses that are due to noninflationary factors in other funds. Put another way, the JumpStart Fund transfer would be permanently solving stability issues inherent with the existing [general fund] financing structure.”
This shift in usage potentially means this tax could be permanently pulled away from the funding priorities for which it was intended.
CM Mosqueda has said that she (and a coalition that sent a letter earlier this year re the JumpStart funds) would like to see any JumpStart funds that are taken from their intended allocations used to prevent austerity and cuts, not to fund new programs. However, the Mayor’s proposed budget contains what amounts to a pay cut for human service providers while, per Erica C. Barnett, it also adds $32m in net ongoing new expenditures for 2023 (and $52m for 2024). And some of the money allocated towards the JumpStart priorities doesn’t seem to fit into the designated categories for which the tax is supposed to be used. However, it’s going to be a struggle to fix all of this: if the Council doesn’t wish to go along with Harrell’s plan to reallocate JumpStart funds, they’ll potentially have to find alternate funding for certain programs and/or make cuts, and they’ll have to decide whether to hold fast to their commitment to the community about how these dollars were to be spent.
Also as part of his proposed budget, the Mayor plans to underspend the budget by $10m in unspecified ways in 2023. He already performed an underspend of $19.77m in 2022, and looking at which projects were paused is instructive: 32% of the funds not spent were in the Human Services Department for uses such as restorative justice programs, expanding pre-filing diversion contracts, a survey on national best practices on interrupting gun violence, expanding behavioral health services, expanding the mobile crisis team, preparing a survey for designing a new behavioral health facility, and investments to address AAPI hate crimes. Other public safety investments in the 2022 budget that fell victim to this underspend included Mayor Durkan’s ill-fated Triage One, adding 26 dispatchers to the 911 call center, and a victim compensation fund. You can look at the complete list here in Attachment B, starting on page 44.
In summary, it turns out that when the Mayor’s office was choosing where to underspend, public safety alternatives were some of the first programs up on the chopping block. And because of the nebulous nature of the underspend going forward, we can’t really say what programs will end up getting nixed in 2023 and 2024, although we do know whatever programs get frozen will have had the consensus to be funded in whatever budget is passed in November.
Continuing budget season, the Council will hear issue identification for the CSCC and SPD, including the proposed transfer of parking enforcement officers from SDOT to SPD, tomorrow, October 12, and you can expect some analysis of those discussions early next week.
Finally, in more ShotSpotter news, the South Seattle Emerald ran a piece by Carolyn Bick reporting that the CEO of ShotSpotter donated $535 to Harrell in 2013, and ShotSpotter’s Director of Customer Success donated $100 in Harrell’s 2021 mayoral campaign. It’s possible this is something of a pattern, as the CEO of ShotSpotter also donated $1000 to Detroit Mayor Duggan’s 2013 campaign, and Detroit is another city where ShotSpotter had been lobbying its product and where it is now operating. As Bick writes:
Personal campaign contributions from company employees are not illegal, and these are relatively small amounts of money. However, the Emerald felt it important to report on these personal donations because they were made against the backdrop of Harrell launching several attempts to bring the ShotSpotter system to Seattle over the same period of time.