Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan intends to unveil a proposal in the coming weeks to maintain bus service by asking voters to replace taxes due to expire at the end of 2020, she said Tuesday. The mayor also plans to launch an initiative to help curb retaliatory gun violence, she said during her annual State of the City address.
For the second straight year, Durkan described Seattle as “strong and resilient,” citing taxpayer investments that, under her guidance, are providing more residents with subsidized preschool, community college and transit passes.
She didn’t share details about the bus-service proposal, which may be complicated by new limits on car-tab taxes.
Durkan registered her 2021 reelection campaign earlier this month, and she used her speech Tuesday to argue the case that City Hall is making life better, even as Seattle has continued to struggle with massive inequality and stubborn congestion.
“I work every day to translate our progressive values into these real, concrete actions,” she told city leaders and supporters at Rainier Arts Center in Columbia City.
Durkan chose not to address some challenges that have troubled her administration, such as concerns raised by a judge about the city’s police accountability system and complaints by outreach workers about people losing their belongings during cleanups of homeless camps.
She did, however, acknowledge that Seattle has become too costly for many working people, referencing a Swedish Hospital nurse who can’t afford to live in the city where he works and sometimes sleeps in his car while on call, instead of going home across the Puget Sound to Bremerton.
“We need more tools as a region,” the mayor said, urging state lawmakers to pass a bill authorizing King County to raise more money for affordable housing projects by taxing compensation paid by large corporations to employees making at least $150,000 a year.
In a response Tuesday, Councilmember Kshama Sawant said Durkan should have mentioned that some business leaders want a clause inserted in the bill that would ban Seattle from enacting its own big-business tax. The mayor has declined to take a position on that matter.
Instead, Durkan told the audience Seattle has “taken bold actions” by eliminating library late fines, adopting new rights for domestic workers and adding key homeless-shelter services.
“Being progressive means actually making progress,” she said, repeating a phrase she used last week in a slam against Sawant.
The Seattle area’s annual one-night count of homeless people, an imprecise tally carried out by volunteers, showed a decline last year for the first time since 2012, the mayor noted. While the count declined, the number of people accessing homeless services has been climbing.
Durkan twice touted $1.5 billion directed toward affordable housing projects since 2017. Seattle has contributed $250 million, with government and private partners covering the rest.
Tuesday’s address sounded much like speeches the mayor had given before. She described the city’s state the same way as last year and, as before, contrasted City Hall with the White House.
“In this era of polarization, and the constant chaos spilling out of that other Washington, here in Seattle, we can and we must do better,” Durkan said, promising her administration would continue to stand up against a Trump administration that “demonizes” immigrants.
Durkan also announced plans to open multiple “assistance centers” to support the 2020 United States Census, and to direct more community college students to internships with the city and with companies such as Alaska Airlines and Amazon, she said.
She said the city will create a new “community response program,” which will dispatch “trusted community members and former gang members” to tamp down tensions. One person was killed and seven injured in a gang-related shooting in downtown last month.
In addition, the Fire Department will roll out a second “Health One” unit to handle non-emergency 911 calls, Durkan added, noting the existing unit’s firefighters and social worker have helped 275 people in recent months, including many without adequate shelter and medical care.
Later this year, the mayor will ask the council to eliminate the permit fees small businesses pay to put up storefront signs. The fees can cost hundreds of dollars a year, her office said.