OPINION: Mayor Durkan’s Austerity Budget Fails Working People and Black and Brown Communities, Fails to Defund Police

by Kshama Sawant

“It should surprise no one that the Mayor who has overseen police indiscriminately tear gas protest movements is now trying to gaslight an entire city into thinking she believes that Black Lives Matter.”

Democratic Mayor Jenny Durkan, who has given us torrents of tear gas, blast balls, and pepper spray, who has staunchly defended Amazon and billionaires from even minimal taxation, and who has presided over brutal austerity budgets, is now offering a 2021 budget that will only double down on hard times for Seattle’s working people and marginalized communities.

Behind her gauzy rhetoric about “reimagining policing” and the “largest-ever investment in racial equity and justice,” Mayor Durkan is proposing a business-as-usual budget that fundamentally fails working people, especially in Black and Brown communities. 

Working people need a massive expansion of affordable housing. We need free transit, good union jobs, a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures in this pandemic, an end to police violence, and a Green New Deal for Seattle. We need vibrant, well-funded community centers, libraries, and parks. Mayor Durkan’s proposed budget fails to deliver on every single priority issue for working people, while cutting vital services.

The Mayor’s budget fails to fund affordable housing or protect tenants facing eviction and homelessness. It fails to stop the rapid gentrification of the Central District and other historic communities of color. It fails to defund the bloated police budget. It fails to stop the cruel, inhumane, and ineffective forced dislocation of our homeless neighbors. It fails to rein in the violent, racist police department.

Mayor Durkan opposed the 2018 Amazon Tax and supported its shameful repeal by the City Council Democrats, she opposed the Amazon Tax won by our movement earlier this year, and she is now attempting to use the Amazon Tax revenue as an excuse to avoid defunding the police department.

Mayor Durkan easily could have proposed to increase the Amazon Tax that our movement just won, to raise more revenues to meet urgent human needs. Everyone knows big business can afford it: Amazon, which is blatantly exploiting its workers, is reaping record profits. Its market capitalization has crested $1.5 trillion. CEO Jeff Bezos’s wealth exceeds $185 billion, up from around $115 billion in just 9 months.

But Durkan has once again failed to tax the rich to meet urgent human needs because to her, catering to the pandemic profiteers is more important than serving working people.

Mayor Durkan could have proposed defunding the bloated police budget by 50%, as the grassroot Black Lives Matter movement has demanded and as my office proposed through legislation this past summer. That would have freed up $200 million for community needs. Instead, she has offered window-dressing changes to the police budget. This will do nothing to change the fundamentally racist and violent nature of the SPD, which will continue to suck up one-quarter of the City’s discretionary budget under her proposal.

It should surprise no one that the Mayor who has overseen police indiscriminately tear gas protest movements is now trying to gaslight an entire city into thinking she believes that Black Lives Matter. 

Durkan is cynically playing shell games with this budget. At the same time she pledges $100 million to Black and Brown communities at some future date, she would cynically cut more than $75 million immediately from the community centers, libraries, parks, and social services these communities rely upon. Does she think working people and People of Color are stupid?

(Read the Mayor’s proposed 2021 budget, page 19, for details on budget cuts.)

I’ve no doubt that working people will see through this sleight of hand. Instead of Durkan’s austerity budget, we must fight for a People’s Budget that meets human needs by defunding SPD by 50% and by raising taxes on Amazon and other major corporations to fully fund our vital social services. 

Minneapolis offers a cautionary tale about the Democratic establishment: After a majority of City Councilmembers there pledged three months ago to defund the police in the wake of the police murder of George Floyd and “end policing as we know it,” they have now shamefully walked back their commitments.

Here in Seattle, even though seven of nine City Councilmembers pledged this summer to support defunding SPD by 50%, not one of them supported the legislative proposal in July from the People’s Budget movement and my office to do just that. (The 50% defund proposals from my Council office are available here and here.)

As with many of the Democrats on the City Council, the Mayor has talked at length about the protests of police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, but in this budget has totally ignored the primary demand of those protests: Defund the police by at least 50%.

In the coming weeks, members of the Democratic political establishment will join in criticizing the Mayor’s proposed budget. They will offer incremental amendments. But we should not be fooled. This is how the Democratic Party operates: some Democratic politicians will announce their opposition to the Mayor’s cruel austerity, but collectively they will fail to deliver on the pledge to defund SPD and tax the rich — unless we organize a powerful grassroots movement to demand a real People’s Budget. 

The People’s Budget that Seattle’s working people need would fully fund parks and roads, not slash them as the Mayor has proposed today. It would not freeze positions and lay off hard-working City workers as the Mayor proposes. In fact we need the opposite. We need a massive jobs program to build housing and Green New Deal infrastructure, paid for by taxing big business and the rich.

My Council office will be convening our People’s Budget Town Hall on Tuesday evening, Oct. 20, where we will put forward our budget demands, developed by grassroots activists, and build the movement to win a budget based on the needs of working people, not big business, and one that defunds police violence.

Kshama Sawant is the Seattle City Councilmember representing District 3.

Featured image: Kshama Sawant at Othello rally, June 7, 2020. (Photo: Jonathan Rosenblum)