OPINION: It’s Time for a People’s Budget for SeaTac

by Takele Gobena

In the weeks since a Minneapolis police officer murdered George Floyd, millions have taken to the streets with a clear rallying cry: Stop propping up the failed systems that hurt Black and Brown communities, and start prioritizing the things that allow us all to live safely, joyously, and free. 

This is not a vague demand. It is a direct call to action for lawmakers at every level of government to take a long, hard look at their budgets and to harness the power of their office to begin to make meaningful change.

In SeaTac, we have a unique opportunity to meet the people’s demand and to pass a People’s Budget. This Friday, July 10, the SeaTac City Council will meet to discuss the priorities for this year’s budget — the first meeting in what I hope will be an ongoing and transparent process that centers the urgent needs of our over-policed and under-resourced communities.   

We know that prioritizing communities starts with understanding what our neighborhoods need. We need to ensure that all working-class people are protected amid the pandemic and beyond. We need to house the homeless, protect the 48% of SeaTac residents who are renters, and take meaningful steps toward safe, stable and affordable housing for all. We need well-funded schools and family-sustaining jobs in every neighborhood. We need to protect our low-wage workers by culturally redefining how we view essential work. We need to fund the service organizations that provide health care, services to children and families, mentoring to youth, food, counseling, and other services that sustain our communities.

And in order to do it, we need to refuse to return to the status quo of structural racism, with Black and Brown SeaTac community members facing higher rates of poverty, evictions, job loss, and incarceration. 

SeaTac City Council has the opportunity to work alongside community and movement leaders to build a People’s Budget — a just, equitable budget that uproots systemic racism and white supremacy in all its forms, and takes active steps toward a just recovery for all. A People’s Budget looks dramatically different from what we have now. Right now, SeaTac spends $11 million on police, and less than $600,000 on the life-saving human services that keep our communities afloat and the service organizations that provide them. Meanwhile, service organizations are stretched to capacity, with double the demand from community members to just put food on the table for their families. When communities are in crisis, you invest in helping them, not locking them away.

We should not sugarcoat this current moment. SeaTac has the second-highest rate of COVID-19 cases in King County. We are still amidst an exploding pandemic that is disproportionately killing Black and Brown people, and we are still suffering through an economic recession disproportionately devastating the finances and the lives of people of color. 

There are many who believe that, in times of crisis, protecting corporate profits and bank balance sheets comes first. Here, the SeaTac City Council has approved millions of dollars in tax breaks for corporate developers since the pandemic but has failed to sufficiently address seniors’ needs and support rental assistance and human needs. This is directly reflected in the huge disparity between funding for police and funding for human services. The Council majority seems to believe that people should pull themselves up by their bootstraps while banks get bailouts and that government is wasteful and inefficient. This line of thinking leads to the glaring inadequacies of our public health systems that are on display right now—SeaTac has the highest uninsured rates in King County and SeaTac workers have no paid sick leave. 

But as a SeaTac Councilmember and a proud leader of the MLK Working Families Party, I believe that lawmakers should serve regular working people, not the wealthy and well-connected. We should be listening to and working with the communities most affected by this crisis — the poor people, working people, Black and Brown people, immigrants, those who will suffer the most when our support systems fail.

It is time for real action. We need to listen to the urgent needs of our communities and harness the collective power of our office to meet them. As budget discussions continue, I implore my colleagues to lead with compassion and solidarity, to increase funding significantly to organizations providing services, and to reject any budget that does not adequately fund life-affirming services but overspends millions on excessive and violent policing. A People’s Budget means listening to community members and ensuring that vital services and the health of our communities come first.   

Takele Gobena is a member of the SeaTac City Council, elected in 2019 for a four-year term; he also represents transportation workers at Teamsters Local 117.

Featured image: SeaTac/Airport Station from International Boulevard.