The Council shows where they might be leaning, SPD budget-wise

Time for another report on the Seattle 2021 budget front! This week the Council have been discussing their Form Bs, each of which requires three CMs to co-sponsor. However, CMs do not yet need to identify how the City will pay for these proposals. So a word of caution: all of what we are about to discuss is preliminary and likely to change at least somewhat during the next few weeks.

With that caveat, first we have a thread covering the Council Briefing on Monday, October 26.

There’s been a fair amount of news coverage of CM Herbold’s proposal of legislation that would create new defenses for misdemeanor crimes in Seattle. The purpose of this legislation is to decriminalize poverty, mental illness, and addiction, and give judges and juries more room to consider these circumstances. CP Gonzalez had several reasons for thinking this legislation wasn’t best considered during the budget process, so it is unlikely to be included in any budget package. However, look for a similar proposal to come to the Council, probably through the Public Safety Committee, sometime after Thanksgiving.

Twitter avatar for @amysundberg

Amy Sundberg @amysundberg
I’m listening to the Council’s discussion on CM Herbold’s legislative proposal for changing the legal definition of “duress.” This legislation is meant to decriminalize crimes of poverty.

Before we dive into SPD proposals, here are a few other relevant highlights from this week’s budget meetings. Please note that CM Mosqueda is co-sponsoring very little at this juncture due to her position as Budget Chair.

CM Herbold proposed a cut of $10 million from the FG for the Equitable Communities Initiative and an addition of $10 million to HSD for community-led public safety investments. This would ensure the remaining $10m allocated by the Council this summer for the ramp-up of community-led public safety organizations would be funded by taking the money from the $100m the Mayor promised to BIPOC communities. Co-sponsors are CP Gonzalez and CMs Sawant, Lewis, and Morales.

CM Sawant proposed adding $30m to ensure the Strategic Investment Fund to Address Displacement (established by the sale of the Mercer Mega Block) remains funded. Co-sponsoring were CP Gonzalez and CMs Lewis, Morales, and Herbold.

CM Mosqueda proposed an additional expansion to Health One, which was co-sponsored by everyone but CM Herbold. She also proposed adding $2.13m to restore several positions proposed for budgetary layoffs, which was co-sponsored by everyone but CM Juarez.

Onto the SPD and related proposals! You can see the agenda here, and warning, the Twitter thread breaks a few times because Twitter was being buggy this afternoon.

To begin with, it’s worth noting there aren’t any huge across-the-board cuts to the SPD being proposed. The Council and the Mayor are on the same page about wanting to move a lot of units out from under SPD’s umbrella, although they have different ideas about where specifically these units should be moved. CM Herbold is proposing a new Community Safety and Communications Center, which would be a more comprehensive center than the Mayor’s suggestion of the Seattle Emergency Communications Center.

In addition to many proposals requesting reports from SPD, some of which have already been asked for, the main proposals boil down to recapturing some funds from the SPD budget in the following ways:

  1. Cut $6.1m in vacancy savings. These are currently funded police officer positions that the SPD projects they will be unable to fill in 2021.
  2. Cut $3.7m in overtime savings. This is assuming special events etc. will remain at the same level as in 2020 due to COVID.
  3. Impose a proviso of $5m in potential attrition savings. Apparently the police department has historically been very bad at predicting their levels of attrition and tend to under-predict. This proviso will capture any funds saved from additional attrition.
  4. Enact 35 out-of-order layoffs of sworn officers. These layoffs, when combined with attrition, will complete eliminating the 100 sworn officer positions the Council said they would in the revised 2020 budget.
  5. Cut $475k from the travel/training and supplies portions of the SPD budget, while maintaining all training necessary under the consent decree.
  6. Abrogate 70 officer positions in the SPD. These are mostly unfunded and vacant positions, so this doesn’t realize any savings but does mean the SPD would have to go to Council to get any new positions added should they ever want to expand.
  7. Ensure all savings realized from SPD cuts is used for the participatory budgeting process (up to $1m) and for allocation by the PBP into community investments into public safety. (This amendment was walked on by CM Morales at the beginning of the meetings today.)
  8. Move the mental health professionals who are part of the SPD’s Crisis Response Unit to HSD and add an additional 11 mental health professionals to do the same work.

As you see analyses begin to spread across the internet, it is important to keep in mind that the transferral of many units (such as the 911 call center, the parking enforcement workers, etc.) will account for much of the drop in the 2021 SPD budget and the lower number of positions. We also aren’t sure yet which proposals will definitely be incorporated into the Council’s budget package. That being said, Kevin Scholfield did some preliminary math and says we’re looking at around a 17.3% decrease in the SPD budget from the original (pre-COVID) 2020 budget.

These aren’t the sweeping changes that many activists might have hoped to see, but in a note of optimism (what? in 2020?) it does set a trend for further changes going forward. As many of you may remember, in the summer I was hammering home how important it was to allocate funds this year to begin ramping up community organizations in public safety. Although these funds were passed by Council, unfortunately most of them will not be seen by community organizations this year, meaning they haven’t yet been able to expand. This delay is slowing the whole process down. In addition, participatory budgeting takes a significant amount of time. But it is encouraging to see that so far at least the Council doesn’t seem to be backtracking on their position at the end of summer.

What’s next? We get next week off from budget meetings, although we will be getting a presentation on the state legislative lobbying agenda during Council Briefing. We’re also waiting for the revised revenue projection from the City Budget Office. Then CM Mosqueda will introduce her balancing package on November 10, and the CMs will put together their Form Cs, which they will discuss the following week.

Meanwhile, some people are already asking if the Mayor will veto whatever budget the Council passes. Exciting times!

Happy Halloween! Have a wonderful and safe weekend!