After the employee hours tax failed to pass Tuesday, the Seattle City Council had to account for a $13 million hole in balancing the 2018 budget. And hard cuts included shaving $1 million off the $6.3 million budget for the mayor's office, a 17 percent reduction for mayor-elect Jenny Durkan's administration.
Here were the cuts: a $646,400 reallocation to the Human Services Department (largest chunk for four additional full-time employees), $100,000 to start building an infrastructure to collect an employee hours tax, $175,000 to the Zero Youth Detention Initiative, and $150,000 to an unsanctioned encampments cleanup pilot program.
That leaves Durkan with less to work with and a three-week transition period, prompting Mayor Tim Burgess to release a statement criticizing the council for not making similar cuts to the legislative department. Durkan will get sworn in on November 28 and released a 61-member transition team that will help form her administration; when asked about the cuts, a spokesperson said her priority right now is working through an unprecedented transition.
"This misguided surprise illustrates the harm that can be caused when significant budget decisions are made on the fly without a thorough analysis of impacts," Burgess said. "If in their wisdom, the council believes these funds are needed for other purposes, and remembering that the legislative department’s budget is twice the size of the mayor’s budget, then the funds should come proportionately from the mayor’s office and the legislative department."
On the campaign trail, the mayor's office budget had become a point of contention when mayoral candidate Cary Moon had promised to cut its budget, saying that it had grown by nearly half under former mayor Ed Murray.
The mayor's office would have gone up 40 percent between 2014 ($4.5 million) and proposed 2018 ($6.3 million) at a time when Seattle's economy also picked up. Staff levels rose from 27.5 to 37.5 full-time employees. Reducing the budget to $5.3 million makes it an 18 percent increase in the past four years. In 2013 when Murray took office, the city adopted a budget that grew 25 percent, though that included a new Office of Policy and Innovation and doubling the size of the Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs.
The largest chunk of the council's cuts, $436,000, will go to the Human Services Department for four additional full-time employees, proposed by council member Kirsten Harris-Talley. It passed with a 5-2 vote, with Rob Johnson and Debora Juarez voting against it. (Sally Bagshaw and Lorena Gonzalez abstained.)
Johnson also opposed the $100,000 in infrastructure for the new head tax because of where the money would come from, and said it was "intellectually inconsistent" for the council to make such drastic cuts to the mayor's office without including the office in the process. Gonzalez also pointed out that last year, the legislative department received another nine full-time employees, one more legislative aide for each council member.
Harris-Talley and Kshama Sawant argued that the mayor's office has some of the highest-paid employees in the city. Sawant mentioned Seattle City Light executive Larry Weis, who makes $330,000 but is not in the mayor's office. (The city council approved his salary.) Harris-Talley in a statement late Wednesday also pointed out Burgess was the one to propose cuts to the mayor's office when it affected newly elected Mike McGinn.
"We made lots of important decisions today that have very real impacts for the people of Seattle. Anything less than what my colleagues and I offered today in the way of reductions would compromise our ability to meet the most pressing issues of the moment," Harris-Talley said in a statement. "This body will continue to exercise rational decision-making processes which demonstrate our fiscal accountability and commitment to our constituents."
Updated 11:10am on November 16, 2017, for edits and to include more context for the budget increases under Murray's time. Updated 2pm to correct that Weis's salary was approved by council, not the mayor's office, and he is not a mayoral staffer.