Mayor Tim Burgess on his second week in the executive office released the 2018 $5.6 billion budget proposal Monday and highlighted three key components that would see more funding next year: support for sexual abuse survivors, food security through the city's new soda tax, and a citywide retirement savings system.
After child rape allegations against former mayor Ed Murray forced him to resign two weeks ago, some advocates have been demanding more investment to help survivors of sexual abuse and domestic violence. During the council meeting Monday, Burgess in his budget speech said the city wants justice following the "painful crisis" of the past few months.
"To survivors, I want you to know your city government stands with you," Burgess said. "We will support you, and we will walk with you on that path toward healing."
The budget includes $500,000 to invest in the Coalition Ending Gender-Based Violence and to help sexual abuse survivors—especially those from underserved groups like people of color, immigrants and refugees, and LGBTQ—connect with advocates. Another $162,000 will be earmarked for the city's Domestic Violence Firearm Prevention Program, which helps recover illegal firearms still in the hands of those who were court-ordered to give them up (like in the case of a domestic violence protection order).
"I do expect that this is going to be a major topic and priority for the council as a whole," said council member Lisa Herbold, who's now the chair of the budget committee. On whether she thinks the funding is enough, Herbold said she will be putting her legislative priorities on the back burner to focus on her new diplomatic role creating a budget package.
Aside from the demand for more investment into services for sexual abuse survivors, here are some other highlights from the budget proposal:
1. Burgess's budget proposal included looking into an optional citywide retirement savings plan for an estimated 200,000 workers in the city who don't have access to one. He set aside $200,000 in the budget for a feasibility study and legal analysis on the plan.
2. He outlined where the $14.8 million revenue from the city's new sweetened beverage tax would go—Burgess said more low-income residents can "effectively double their buying power" for fresh produce and twice as many children from families struggling with fresh food access eligible for bags of vegetables and fruits from school.
Aside from the $1.2 million needed to implement the tax and a $500,000 auditor evaluation, these are the biggest chunks of the money:
-$2.4 million toward Fresh Bucks, a program that matches up to $10 a day spent at farmers' markets by food stamp holders for those who don't have access to fresh produce.
-$1.4 million invested into the 13th Year Promise, which provides certain Seattle high school seniors with one year of free community college tuition.
-$525,000 for the Parent-Child Home Program, literacy education for two- to three-year-old low-income children.
-$500,000 for job training to mitigate potential job losses resulting from the soda tax.
3. More investment in public safety includes additional funding for firefighters, 911 response and increased staff for police oversight bodies like the Office of the Inspector General and Office of Police Accountability. That includes another firefighter recruiting class, more paramedic training, a second aid unit during peak times, and more staff at the Fire Alarm Center and replacing the fire department's backup dispatch system.
Burgess in his speech also spoke about the importance of police reform as a former police officer. He said the city has made "great strides" and should continue to remain transparent throughout the continuing process.
"In this context, and at this time, it is important for someone in my position to clearly say: Black Lives Matter," Burgess said, prompting applause from the public.
4. The budget increases spending on homeless services to $63 million (from about $60 million this year). Four years ago the funding was at $39 million, according to the city. The city proposes more "exits from homelessness to permanent housing" and more funding for private market and subsidized affordable units for homeless service agencies by adding resources to staff the Housing Resource Center and funds to help attract property owners into accepting tenants with barriers (like criminal records or low credit scores).
"This is one of the major ways that government works in service of the public good—by using the budget process to invest in protecting the most vulnerable among us," Burgess said.