by Erica C. Barnett
(This article originally appeared on PubliCola and has been reprinted under an agreement.)
Mayor Bruce Harrell’s first budget proposal would use JumpStart payroll tax revenues to shore up spending for non-JumpStart programs, move the City’s parking enforcement officers back into the Seattle Police Department (SPD) from the Department of Transportation (SDOT), and provide pay increases to homeless service providers well below the rate of inflation.
The proposal includes an add of just over $1 million to the current $6 million budgeted for projects designed to reduce traffic deaths and serious injuries in the Rainier Valley, plus “other transit-related projects that will be identified in the coming months,” according to the budget book.
In addition, the budget increases funding for the King County Regional Homelessness Authority by just over $10 million, or 13% — a fraction of the $90 million the KCRHA requested from the City and King County. The budget earmarks that funding for new shelter, such as tiny house villages. In its budget proposal, the KCRHA asked for funding for, among other things, a new high-acuity shelter for people with severe physical and behavioral health care needs, new spaces for unsheltered people to go during the day, and wage increases for homeless service providers.
King County Executive Dow Constantine’s budget proposal, also announced today, includes $90.6 million for the KCRHA, an increase of about $41 million over 2022.
It also adds $13.7 million across three departments — Human Services, the Seattle Department of Transportation, and Seattle Public Utilities — to maintain the Unified Care Team, which “addresses the impacts of unsheltered homelessness in the city,” and the Clean Cities Initiative, which provides trash pickup in parks and around encampments, along with graffiti cleanup and enforcement. That total includes $1 million to add six new “system navigators” to the Human Services Department’s HOPE Team, which does outreach at homeless encampments before they are swept.
The proposal includes a number of cuts and a budget shortfall of around $140 million. The Seattle Police Department budget eliminates 80 vacant positions, for a savings on paper of $11 million, and moves spending from another 120 vacant positions to other SPD programs, including hiring bonuses and other recruitment efforts, wellness programs, and equipment, including new Tasers and $1 million for an automated gunshot surveillance system, commonly known as ShotSpotter, in Rainier Beach.
ShotSpotter, a system that involves installing discreet surveillance microphones all over neighborhoods with high levels of gun violence, has a checkered history. A study of its use in Chicago concluded that it rarely resulted in the detection of actual gun violence, and could lead to preemptive police stops and searches in Communities of Color; last year, that city was forced to withdraw evidence based on ShotSpotter data from a murder case because the information was deemed unreliable. According to the ACLU, acoustic gunfire detection systems often send police into Communities of Color based on false alarms, increasing the likelihood of conflicts between cops keyed up for a dangerous confrontation and innocent people in those communities.
Tim Burgess, the mayor’s chief public safety adviser, pushed unsuccessfully to set up ShotSpotter technology in the Rainier Valley back in 2014, when he was on the City Council.
Although Harrell’s office has said it plans to stand up a new “third” public safety department starting in 2024, the budget does not include any specific line items for work to develop this department next year.
Transferring the parking enforcement officers from SDOT back into SPD will save an estimated $5 million in administrative costs that the City was paying SDOT as part of the transfer. It also reverses a shift in funding that advocates against “defunding” the police department have used to claim that Seattle made cuts to SPD in response to the 2020 protests against police violence.
Parking enforcement officers have complained that the move to SDOT deprived them of access to a real-time criminal database that allowed them to look up the criminal history of a vehicle’s owner before stopping to issue a ticket. The move, according to Harrell’s budget, will “eliminate the basis for PEOs’ unfair labor practice (ULP) complaints” while also restoring the city’s Office of Police Accountability’s authority to investigate misconduct complaints against parking officers.
“This may not be the PEOs’ final home,” Harrell said during his budget speech on Tuesday, leaving open the possibility that the officers could move to the future new public safety department.
Harrell’s proposal to use $95 million in JumpStart tax revenues to balance his budget will likely come up against City Council opposition. The tax is earmarked for housing, Green New Deal programs, and equitable development, but was used during the pandemic to shore up the general-fund budget, with the understanding that the practice would be temporary.
In 2021, the city adopted an ordinance creating a special fund for JumpStart revenues and establishing formal restrictions on the use of the tax to backfill the City’s general fund. Currently, the City can’t raid the JumpStart fund for non-general-fund purposes unless general fund revenues fall below about $1.5 billion. Harrell’s budget includes legislation, which would have to be approved by the City Council, that would lift the floor by the rate of inflation, making it easier to use JumpStart revenues for any purpose.
In a statement, City Council Budget Chair Teresa Mosqueda alluded to the kinds of changes the Council might consider to Harrell’s budget proposal.
“Without investments in working families and core city services, the inequities we saw prior to COVID-19 will only continue to deepen,” Mosqueda said. “With a rocky economic forecast locally and nationally, inflation rates continuing to rise, and no new federal COVID-related funding, I will be focused on strong fiscal stewardship while maintaining investments in the people and services for our City.”
Although the mayor’s office is requesting a true inflationary increase in the floor to use JumpStart spending for non-JumpStart purposes, the budget proposes a sub-inflationary increase of just 4% for homeless service providers — a total of just over $600,000 next year. Currently, the City is required by law to increase wages for all human service providers by the rate of inflation, which, this year, is around 8.7%. Wage increases that are lower than the rate of inflation constitute an effective pay cut. Lowering wage increases for human service providers will require a change in the law.
On Monday, Harrell, along with King County Executive Dow Constantine, touted a proposal that would increase behavioral health provider wages by 13%. Harrell’s budget also includes recruitment bonuses for child care workers, another field that, like human and behavioral health services, has a very high rate of turnover because of low wages, tough working conditions, and a lack of real pay increases relative to inflation.
The budget now goes to the City Council, whose budget committee — made up of all nine Councilmembers — will take it up starting this week. The Council adopts the City’s budget annually in late November, just before Thanksgiving.
This is a developing story.
Erica C. Barnett is a feminist, an urbanist, and an obsessive observer of politics, transportation, and the quotidian inner workings of City Hall.
📸 Featured Image: Photo is attributed to Kevin Schofield under a Creative Commons 2.0 license (CC BY-NC 2.0).
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