Seattle’s budget would surpass $6 billion for the first time next year under a plan unveiled Monday by Mayor Jenny Durkan, who pitched investments in transit, education and housing during a speech at Franklin High School.
The mayor’s proposed budget calls for $6.5 billion in total spending in 2020, including infrastructure projects and $1.5 billion in general-fund allocations for basic services such as parks maintenance and policing.
“Let’s take our progressive Seattle values and turn them into action — action that does the most good for the most people,” she said.
The City Council will spend the next two months combing through and altering Durkan’s plan and will seek to pass an updated version in late November. This year’s budget is $5.9 billion, including $1.32 billion in general-fund spending.
Durkan said her new budget would address various needs in a booming city that’s become more expensive in recent years. For instance, she said her plan would nearly double Seattle’s child-care subsidy program to serve 600 more income-eligible kids.
“Seattle is changing, and with our budget we can decide what kind of city we want to be,” she said, addressing much of her half-hour speech to students in the audience.
The mayor told them her 2020 plan would allocate dollars for community college scholarships and for new bus-only lanes along segments of Rainier Avenue South. Perhaps the loudest cheer came from the students when the mayor thanked their Franklin teachers.
Durkan also mentioned how her plan includes bicycle and pedestrian safety-improvement projects, and heralded a deal with King County to work together to address homelessness.
The mayor didn’t say where her budget would make any cuts, nor did she explicitly credit Seattle taxpayers that have seen their costs rise to help bankroll the city’s spending.
Missing Monday was the warning tone Durkan adopted leading up to her budget speech last year, when she stressed there would likely be a slowdown in the city’s economic growth and vowed to exercise more cautionary spending than her predecessor, Ed Murray.
Having promised voters she would scrub the city’s budget, she touted about $50 million in reductions at that time and redirected that money in 2019 to new priorities she said were more important.
This year, the mayor is proposing significant budget bumps for work assigned to her human services, neighborhoods and planning departments, while Seattle City Light and Seattle Public Utilities would spend more on capital projects.
The prediction that local economic growth, which has powered record tax collections, would start to slow “has been largely realized,” according to Durkan’s budget office.
The mayor still had room to increase the budget in 2020, the office said, partly because Seattle is selling a super-valuable property in South Lake Union for $143.5 million and because the city’s soda tax has continued to raise more money than anticipated.
Under Durkan’s plan, the city would use proceeds from the Mercer Mega Block sale to build affordable housing, stand up the city-county homelessness agency and pay for transportation-safety projects related to “Vision Zero,” an initiative to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030. Meanwhile, $3 million in soda-tax revenue would be used for the child-care subsidies.
Payments to Seattle related to the Washington State Convention Center expansion, as well as millions of dollars in real-estate and sales-tax revenue made newly available by the state Legislature for affordable housing, are also helping offset government costs increasing due to inflation, the budget office said.
The Seattle Public Library’s budget would climb under the mayor’s plan, thanks to a seven-year, $219 million property-tax levy approved by voters last month.
Durkan’s recent proposal to impose a tax of 51 cents per Uber and Lyft ride, now under consideration by the council, could bring in another nearly $10 million in 2020.
The mayor announced some particular budget proposals in the weeks leading up Monday’s speech, seeking extra attention for those investments.
Earlier this month, Durkan said her budget would include $1.6 million to better recruit and retain police officers and about $3 million to help deal with people who cycle between jail and the streets while struggling with substance abuse and mental-health issues.
The mayor also said her budget would enhance a new “Health One” team of first responders to handle nonemergency 911 calls downtown, hire a mental-health worker for each Seattle police precinct and add dedicated nurses at several homeless shelters.
Durkan was elected a little under two years ago. Early in her term, she was embroiled in heated debates over Seattle’s short-lived head tax on large businesses and over who should become police chief.
Late last year, she secured a new union contract with Seattle police officers and saw voters approve a seven-year $600-million-plus education levy, which is paying for subsidized preschool and supplemental K-12 programs in addition to the community college scholarships.
Early this year, the Durkan administration dealt with the closure of the Alaskan Way Viaduct and historic February snowstorms.
Since May, Durkan has been contending with a federal court ruling that found Seattle partly out of compliance with a 2012 police-reform consent decree, based on aspects of the union contract.