Speaking to a packed council chamber thronged by orange-shirted elephant-welfare advocates who oppose city funding for the Woodland Park Zoo, Mayor Ed Murray unveiled a $4.8 billion city budget proposal yesterday that includes many initiatives he's already rolled out in the runup to yesterday's announcement, including more cops, more technology, and more task forces.
Overall, Murray's budget would increase the general fund—that's the portion of the budget that isn't provided by "outside" funds like levies and other revenue sources dedicated to specific purposes—by about 3.5 percent, to just over $1 billion. It includes no new revenue sources—relying instead on new revenues from increased hiring and construction activity—and assumes that increases in sales tax revenues will continue to be modest, as consumers spend less of their income
Murray's budget includes no new revenue sources—relying instead on new revenues from increased hiring and construction activity—and assumes that increases in sales tax revenues will continue to be modest, as consumers spend less of their income.
You can read Murray's whole budget proposal here, but if you'd prefer to stick to the big-ticket items, they include:
• A new Office of Labor Standards, staffed by 7.5 new full-time equivalent (FTE) employees, to enforce the $15 minimum wage, the paid sick-leave law, and other city labor regulations;
• A hundred new SPD officers over the next four years, along with a new data-crunching program called SeaStat that's intended to help SPD track crime "hot spots" and deploy officers where they're most needed;
• A "Housing Affordability Advisory Committee," whose members (including renters, homeowners, developers, and housing experts) Murray will announce later today, that will identify ways the city can increase the amount of housing that's affordable to people at all income levels, from very low-income to middle-class;
• A new Office of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault within the Human Services Department. The new office will replace the domestic violence and sexual assault division of HSD, which former mayor Mike McGinn eliminated in 2011;
• A complete overhaul of the city's budget process itself, including the integration of the city's "numerous accounting systems," a move toward performance-based budgeting (essentially, rewarding departments that deliver on their goals), and a new, public "dashboard" for citizens to monitor departments' performance. (After Murray's speech, council grayhair Nick Licata quipped that King County had tried to improve "efficiency" by implementing its own computer overhaul, and they ended up $30 million in the hole with no new computer system to show for it.)
• A new Transit Division (which SDOT Director Scott Kubly told Fizz about earlier this month) within the city's transportation department, plus $600,000 to expand the city's Pronto bikesharing program, $2 million for a new sidewalk initiative, $8 million over two years to repair and resurface city streets, and $3.2 million, total, for a downtown cycle track network and new greenways parallel to the 23rd Ave. corridor;
• A modest $1.5 million increase in funding for services for homeless people, with an emphasis on veterans and single homeless adults; and
• A new Department of Education and Early Learning, which will replace and expand on the city's existing Office for Education (part of the Department of Neighborhoods).
Murray also said that if Proposition 1, the Metro funding ballot measure, passes in November, he'll help explore ways "to grow transit service within this city" by expanding service on existing overcrowded routes, rather than simply forestalling service cuts.
Murray's budget, by the way, gives the zoo about $7 million per year. Separately, August's successful Prop. 1 property tax, which created a Metropolitan Parks District, includes $10 million total for major maintenance at the zoo.
Speaking to reporters outside council chambers after Murray's speech, city council budget chair Nick Licata struck a positive, but reserved, note about the mayor's budget proposal. "What was missing from the speech," Licata said, "was a particular revenue stream" to pay for some of Murray's more ambitious proposals.
"I suspect that if we start looking at anything significant in the area of human services or increasing [SPD] foot patrols"—something Murray did not explicitly mention in his SPD funding proposal—"we're going to have to look at tapping into some revenue streams [like the] parking tax, the head tax, impact fees, or linkage fees."—Budget Chair Licata
"I suspect that if we start looking at anything significant in the area of human services or increasing [SPD] foot patrols"—something Murray did not explicitly mention in his SPD funding proposal—"we're going to have to look at tapping into some revenue streams [like the] parking tax, the head tax, impact fees, or linkage fees." Licata said he was willing to propose the once-toxic head tax again, but "not as a futile exercise"—that is, only if the rest of the council gets on board.
"I don't see a great wellspring of support for going back to ... property taxes, B&O taxes, and sales taxes," Licata, who wore a yellow tie festooned with ice-cream cones that you can almost make out in the photo above, added. "I think we’re reaching the saturation point for some of those traditional revenue streams." Plus, thanks to Tim Eyman and the state legislature, the city can only increase property taxes by 1 percent a year.
In non-budget news ...
In a notice to microhousing developers yesterday, the city's Department of Planning and Development confirmed what developers already feared: Twenty-five microhousing, or aPodment-style, developments that have already been permitted or are in the process of getting their permits will now have to go through a formal design review process and approval under the State Environmental Policy Act.
"If you wish to revise the project to reflect a larger number of dwelling units, it will be necessary to add Design Review and SEPA," the notice to developers said—processes that will delay and add expense to projects that are already in the permitting process and well underway.
The rule change, which came in response to a King County Superior Court ruling that said each "room" in a Capitol Hill microhousing development counted as a single dwelling unit for regulatory purposes, impacts about 25 developments, or nearly 1,700 individual units.
As we reported in Fizz yesterday, microhousing developers seem cued up to sue the city to stop the effective moratorium, and are hoping Murray, who threatened to veto aPodment legislation if it includes several restrictive new amendments proposed by council members, will be sympathetic to their cause.