To get a handle on 2014, I asked a couple of people what the biggest story of the year was (the catch being that the story had to have seismic implications for 2015). Last week, Sightline's Eric de Place wrote about oil trains. And yesterday, Capitol Hill Housing's Michael Seiwerath wrote about affordable rent for artists.
Today, Democratic activist (and a declared city council candidate for 2015) Michael Maddux actually chooses four stories—Seattle's $15 minimum wage, the permanent parks district, the Metro bus measure, and Seattle's preschool measure—to declare that 2014 was the year that Seattle went its own way, conjuring up a new politics of DIY city governance that will bypass the state legislature to enact a full progressive agenda in the future.
The 2013 ballot measure in SeaTac to enact a minimum wage of $15 was a small town standing up for workers, and taking a risk – is it legal for a city to enact a local minimum wage? While King County Superior Court Judge Andrea Darvas’ ultimate ruling exempted superior governments from the law, by affirming that yes, in fact, cities do have that authority to enact local wage ordinances, the path was cleared, legally, for Seattle to move forward with our own minimum wage ordinance, and has given us a feeling that being bold on policy is not the terrible thing some once thought.
This minimum wage legislation began a series of wins at the municipal level: Following nine months of public hearings and negotiations amongst a community led committee (the Denny Award winning Parks Legacy Committee, of which I was a member), voters approved permanent funding for parks in Seattle – a move necessitated by the State’s ongoing inability to provide revenue reform for local jurisdictions, reform that would allow for stable budgeting.
Cities are stepping up and doing what “superior” governments are unable to do: Fund human infrastructure.
Following failures at the ballot box in Pierce and King County, and the Republican State Senate ignoring the needs of transit users in the Puget Sound region (not the mention the travesty of not funding the Columbia River Crossing because Don Benton hates light rail), Plan C was initiated, and Seattle has stepped up to temporarily fund our own transit. Even better, what was originally sold as a “save Metro” package became an “expand Metro” package!
While the State continues to grapple with funding McCleary—the GOP demanding cuts to other programs, Democrats understanding that education must include preserving things like housing, health care access, and food for kids in Washington – Seattle went bold, funding a pilot program to bring greater access to pre-K education.
This is a trend we are seeing nationwide—cities are stepping up to the plate, and doing what “superior” governments are unable to do: Fund human infrastructure. Put the health and well-being of residents above the needs of big-bank tax cuts. Cities are where we are implementing policies that improve the quality of life, and allow people to do more than reside in a box and work in a box – allow people, regardless of income, to thrive and live in a community.
Of course, this is attracting more and more people to urban areas. Moving forward, cities will need to be vigilant in ensuring that working families can live within our borders. That planning for new housing includes planning for new schools. It means we must include infrastructure for all transportation modalities, with funding, as we grow. And we have to protect our small businesses, and don’t leave them to be pushed aside by ever-rising commercial rents.
Here in Seattle, we are already looking forward with an eye on taking care of our residents and finding revenue solutions. As budget chair, Nick Licata pushed through a plan that invested heavily in human infrastructure. And while some roll their eyes at the thought, Kshama Sawant got in a proviso to look at a local income tax – a much more progressive means of funding government than continually sticking seniors and families with increases in flat car tab fees and sales taxes. With skyrocketing rents, measures to stabilize increases are sure to crop up in 2015.
All of these will be done at the city, bypassing a legislature with a senate that continues to be disinterested in results.
If the ascension of cities—large and small—tells us anything, it is that cities are up to the challenge, and that 2015 will again be a Year of the City.
Michael Maddux is a current member of the Parks Levy Oversight Committee and is a volunteer umpire for Northeast Seattle Little League. Michael works as a paralegal, and lives in Eastlake with his daughter. He has previously chaired the King County Democrats' Endorsements Committee.