OPINION: How we can build equity and economic recovery in Seattle’s 2021 budget

by Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda (Position 8, Citywide)

The Seattle City Council’s fall budget process this year will be vastly different in many ways, as this moment demands elected leaders to step up and address a multitude of overlapping crises that are presenting themselves at once: an ongoing public health emergency that is COVID-19, a racial reckoning calling for investments in true community safety and long-term systemic change, a climate crisis made palpable by weeks of choking wildfire smoke, and we’re still in the midst of an affordable housing and homelessness crisis that plays out in our streets in every neighborhood in Seattle and in the lives of thousands of our neighbors. 

Throughout the next two months, the Council’s task is to not only balance the City of Seattle’s budget for the following year, which is a requirement under state code, but to ensure the investments we’re making as a city align with our shared values while making new, different and meaningful investments to address all of these crises. 

As Budget Chair, it’s a privilege and an incredible responsibility to steward this process with you. My guiding principles this budget season are to ensure every Seattle resident can be healthy, housed, safe, and that we create a process that is transparent and inclusive: 

To be healthy, we need public health and public safety for all of our community members to be paramount in all of our conversations. This means providing more equitable investments in Black and historically marginalized communities, and counteracting years of disinvestment and overpolicing in those same communities. It means correcting for the compounding impacts of COVID that have disproportionately infected and killed Black and brown communities. Through true investments in public health, made possible by my JumpStart Seattle initiative, we can invest in rapid testing, affordable healthcare for undocumented residents, and manufacturing jobs in the City focused on emergent needs associated with the pandemic. 

To be housed, Seattle needs to prioritize investments in housing stability resources–like rent assistance, homelessness prevention and foreclosure prevention. To allow people to safely be housed during this pandemic and beyond, we must mobilize all available resources to make investments in creating more deeply affordable housing with the necessary support to prevent people from cycling back into homelesness. We also need to ensure that those who provide services to people in crises are paid enough so that they don’t end up applying for the same services as their clients. 

To be safe, we also must invest in safe infrastructure as we invest in community safety. The reality is the West Seattle Bridge remains at risk of collapse, Pier 58 is sinking, many sidewalks are in need of repair or have never been built, and our bike network is currently a patchwork. We must ensure our long- and short-term vision for these capital projects don’t stall and that we center equity, safety and the environment in our funding choices. We must ensure the City is working with labor unions, small businesses, and residents, as well as other governmental entities and transportation experts in the design of our capital projects to root our infrastructure changes in community needs and support working families.

As Budget Chair, I’m deeply committed to a transparent budget process that engages all Seattle residents. To start, my staff has worked alongside the Council President’s Office and with Council Central Staff to get committee materials out well before a meeting begins to give time for our colleagues and the public to adequately digest what is proposed. I also want to be transparent with you about the Mayor’s proposed budget and how her spending priorities differ from Council’s, specifically as it relates to JumpStart Seattle and the expected $214 million in revenues JumpStart is expected to bring to the General Fund in 2021. 

The JumpStart Seattle progressive revenue package I sponsored and Council passed was built with a broad coalition of hundreds of businesses, non-profits, labor organizations, environmental and transportation organizations, housing advocates, immigrant and refugee rights organizations, education and childcare advocates, and equity-based organizations.

The JumpStart 2021 spending plan, that unanimously passed council, focuses on ensuring that City services remain stable, that we have investments in small businesses, childcare, housing, food vouchers so families don’t go hungry, and more resources so Seattle residents can survive this pandemic and economic crisis. These are vital supports that would be used to shore up our smallest businesses and lowest-income neighbors, crafted with an equity lens to serve Black and brown communities. And they’re timely: past recessions and data have clearly shown that making these investments in our community now will help stave off the devastating long-term impacts of an economic downturn on our most vulnerable residents and speed up recovery of our local economy. The spending plan also outlined paying back our reserves so we have a strong, financially healthy city. 

I understand that the Mayor made a promise of $100 million to put toward Black and brown communities, without a revenue source, and is proposing using money from JumpStart Seattle. Community, on the other hand, has made the demand that money put toward BIPOC communities must come from and happen at the same time the city is divesting from the police department. Since becoming budget Chair at the beginning of this year, and throughout the deliberative process of creating and passing JumpStart, I have been clear that austerity measures that pit community needs against each other will not lead to true equity–and that point has been underscored by the dozens of community organizations now calling on the City to reject an approach to budgeting that makes investments in Black and brown communities using cuts to JumpStart investments serving these very same communities and our city at large.

Keeping these perspectives in mind, as Chair, I’ll be looking at:

  • How many City employees, contracts, and services are being cut and what’s the impact to those families, the City budget, and our hard-fought policies as a result of cutting JumpStart funding
  • What long-term economic projections look like and whether the Mayor plans on moving toward using current police resources to invest in Black and brown communities
  • Whether the initial $100 million proposal and the ensuing dip into JumpStart funding was determined after consulting a variety of community stakeholders
  • And, using the Mayor’s words from her budget delivery speech, were they “founded on facts and a real plan,” or was the promise made without a real, financially healthy plan

The Council, the Mayor, and the community must work together to build true equity into our City’s policies, invest in community safety, support an economic recovery plan centered on small businesses and low-income workers, and expand accessible and affordable childcare. My commitment to you, the public, is to ensure that as the City Council considers the Mayor’s proposed budget, we listen to the community, we elevate issues, and we propose changes that are deliberated by the entire Council after robust community stakeholder engagement. 

There are many ways for you, the public, to engage with the Council during this budget process. Public comment will occur at every committee meeting. Make sure you sign up on the day you want to speak on the Council’s website.   We’ll be holding dedicated public hearings on October 6 at 5:30 p.m. and October 27 at 5:30 p.m. Additionally, you can learn more about the budget process on our budget website, Councilmembers’ social media channels, and newsletters from your district and citywide Councilmembers

I urge you all to join and make your voices heard. This your opportunity to weigh in and build something together. This is our opportunity to craft a 2021 Budget as a community that is reflective of our city values of an equitable economic recovery while promoting health, housing, and safety for all in our city. 

Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda was elected in November 2017 to serve the over 725,000 residents in Seattle as the citywide Councilmember in Position 8 for a four-year term. 

Featured image is courtesy of the Seattle City Council