City Hall

Some Thoughts on the City Budget

By Erica C. Barnett May 5, 2010

As we noted in Morning Fizz this morning, this year's $56 million budget shortfall has brought out an unusually high number of parks supporters, who are concerned that their programs---community centers, environmental learning centers, pools, and specialized programs for people with disabilities---will be cut. Typically, budget cuts turn out advocates for human services, but rarely parks. (Simultaneously, advocates for libraries have been largely MIA during this year's budget discussions---an indication, perhaps, that they're getting used to annual cuts and are no longer bothering to turn out in protest).

Another unusual thing about the parks advocates who've turned out this year is that, in addition to asking the city not to cut their programs, many of them have said they'd be willing to pay more to keep them open---a reflection of the fact that the parks constituency is, by and large, middle class.

Increasing fees for parks won't close the budget shortfall, but it's starting to look inevitable---as, for that matter, are tax increases. Neither Mayor Mike McGinn nor the council seems likely to stand for an all-cuts budget. Business folks are (understandably) frustrated by the prospect of higher taxes during a recession. But given that the council actually decreased taxes on small businesses last year---raising the threshold for business and occupation and admissions taxes and eliminating the "head tax"---city officials are probably more inclined to increase the burden on business than to cut, say, funding for food banks.

Where does that leave funding for elected officials' pet projects, like McGinn's "Walk, Bike, Ride" initiative and beautifying the waterfront? Probably nowhere, at least until the economy improves. McGinn wants to put a seawall funding measure on the ballot this year. It needs 60 percent support to pass. If it goes on the ballot this year, it could go down as one of the only tax measures in recent memory to fail to win the support of Seattle's tax-loving electorate.
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