With an anticipated slowdown in growth, and a public less willing to pay new taxes, Seattle this year has a tough challenge—balancing the budget while still dedicating an amount they think could make a dent in the city's affordability crisis.
Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan's new budget proposal does little to appease housing advocates but rather invests heavily in public safety and transit. Durkan made it clear—that she wants no new taxes, a focus on basic services, and now it's up to the state and county to "step up" to address the crisis region-wide, she said.
"When I took office, I made a promise to Seattle that I would act with urgency to address our shared challenges," she said. "I inherited a city government with enormous strengths, but is also had some tough problems years in the making."
What her budget includes: another $130 million for the Seattle Department of Transportation, funding for the Streetcar, a plan for King County Metro to increase its bus service hours by 30 percent; 120 new fire recruits, 40 new Seattle police patrol officers, 12 new community service officers; and 24 new staff for Seattle City Light and Seattle Public Utilities. The city identified about $50 million in savings to reallocate, Durkan said, which included eliminating 150 job vacancies.
What it doesn't include: a significant change in funds for affordable housing and homelessness. Durkan proposes $89.5 million next year toward housing and homeless services, which is just about $3 million more compared to this year. That's a big letdown for activists who, just four months ago, thought they would have another $48 million a year raised from the head tax.
Council members in May unanimously approved a controversial tax affecting the city's biggest businesses to raise money for affordable housing—then less than a month later, repealed it following an anti-tax campaign from businesses and unfavorable public perception.
Meanwhile, city budget director Ben Noble said the city is expecting a slowdown in economic growth over the next few years—that means less money projected to be coming in from their ongoing revenue streams, like sales taxes. Along with the estimated inflation, the money Seattle has coming in will be enough to sustain city services, he said, but not expand them.
Still, "homelessness and housing affordability are going to drive our agenda," council president Bruce Harrell told PubliCola after the budget meeting. Activists and council members are likely to look for more money to address the homelessness crisis, but finding that money will be a challenge.
"I'd like to think that we had our major budget fight in June as opposed to November," council member Rob Johnson said, in response to a question about whether council members hope to have any additional revenue options for housing and homelessness.
Bagshaw said they don't want to rehash a "divisive" battle and, like Durkan, believed it was up to the state now to come up with more funding. But she said she didn't know of specific legislation in the works; she mentioned the capital gains tax and income tax, acknowledging that neither one would likely become a reality next year.
The first select budget committee meeting is scheduled for 9:30am on Wednesday.
"We are running dry with sales tax and property taxes here in the city, and we can't do something like what we did last year," Bagshaw told PubliCola. "I want to see a collective coming together and figuring out what's the best option."
Updated 9:02am on September 25, 2018, to correct the time of the budget committee meeting.