1. At yesteday's City Council budget hearing, council central staff flagged a Mayor Ed Murray proposal they fear could take the council and the public out of the loop when it comes to setting priorities.
Murray's budget proposal balances by asking city departments to "underspend" their allotted budgets by 1.5 percent. Citywide the savings—cuts—amount to roughly $16 million a year in the $1 billion budget.
The problem, outlined in a memo and at yesterday's budget briefing by Central Staff director Kirstan Arestad, is that "it doesn't provide how specific departments or programs would be cut in order to achieve the targeted underspend. .. In this way the proposed underspend isn't clear and it delays making difficult choices. Because we don't know how the executive would implement the assumed underspend, it's possible that council priorities or adds could be eliminated after the budget is adopted."
Council member Sally Clark identified the problem succinctly, saying that while underspending isn't outré in general to create capacity, actually writing it into the budget up front as a means to balance the budget is problematic.
By the end of the year, Clark said, that's "a fair amount of money .... What I'm struggling with is that the council will not have input into the terms of the the priorities of the spending."
The mayor's budget director Ben Noble said that while he wasn't officially going to count on increased revenues to solve the problem, he did think it was likely the booming economy would help and the $16 million problem could conceivably be halved right away in the next forecast with just a three quarters of a percent uptick. "It's relatively small changes that could close that gap."
But more importantly, he said the council and mayor share priorities.
His caveat on whether that guaranteed council oversight: "The general sense of shared priorities is real. You all have to make that judgment."
He said the council would get a revenue forecast update next month and then again in April.
So, will human services get the brunt of those cuts or get a pass on those cuts? Libraries and parks and police and SDOT, how do they all compete for uses of shteicty's limited resources? That's typically been a council decision not typically left to the executive to sort out.
But, council central staffer Dan Eder wasn't comforted. He said leaving the council out of a revenue increase presented the same problem as leaving them out of cuts. Eder said: "For another perspective on that. Historically, when the city has had good news on revenue above the forecast in the annual budget, the mayor has returned to council with a request for supplemental budget authority to spend unexpected [revenue]. Typically there's a process for how that revenue would get spent. So, when there's good news, the mayor would come to the council, the council would consider whether that was the city's highest priority for the use of new revenue. The plus side of going that route in terms of allocation of the $16 million potential cuts is that it involves the council making decision about how to allocate the financial realities that the city expected among a variety of competing good uses. So, will human services get the brunt of those cuts or get a pass on those cuts? Libraries and parks and police and SDOT, how do they all compete for uses of shteicty's limited resources? That's typically been a council decision not typically left to the executive to sort out."
Burgess asked if the mayor would "commit" to coming back to council to discuss cuts if the revenue forecast wasn't good.
"Absolutely... this is jointly managed issue," said Noble.
However, Arestad highlighted what the proposal actually said: Good forecast or bad... "what we're saying is that decision about what gets cut or what doesn't get cut is not going to be decided by the council under this scenario... there is a risk to the council that some of its priorities could be lost."
3. File this one under PubliCalendar: Today at 5:00 at Paccar Pavillion, urbanist author and award-winning journalist Charles Montgomery will be holding a "lab" on "design-emotion."
The basic idea is that architecture and urban design can affect your happiness. And if done right, urban architecture can "maximize" your happiness.
Montgomery's book is called Happy City.
The event is sponsored by Futurewise, the green lobbying group that fights against sprawl and fights for transit, walkability, and wait for it you doubters, tree canopy.