The Seattle City Council approved a 2016 city budget with some additional spending on Monday, but voted 5-4 against funding 12 weeks of paid parental leave for city employees.
For a moment Monday, it looked like Seattle City Councilmember Bruce Harrell’s return from time out of town might give Councilmember Kshama Sawant the votes she needed to fund 12 weeks of paid parental leave for city employees.
The proposal had failed on a vote of 4-to-4 last week in the council’s Budget Committee. But Sawant revived it Monday and Harrell — who wants to become the council’s next president — was back to cast the swing vote.
Instead, Sawant’s push failed again, this time by a vote of 4-to-5, when Councilmember Sally Bagshaw withdrew her previous support for the proposal. Harrell sided with Sawant, but by then it didn’t matter.
That surprise twist was the lone bit of drama as the council approved its amended version of Mayor Ed Murray’s 2016 city budget. Sawant was the only “no” vote on the overall package, calling it “business as usual” despite poverty in the city. Last week, the council in committee made about $18 million in additions to the $5.1 billion budget Murray had proposed.
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The additions, which were largely made possible by newly forecast revenues, will fund transit passes for certain public-school students, hygiene services for people without homes, an additional housing inspector, a restroom for Hing Hay Park and many other items and services. The council made about $1.8 million in cuts.
Sawant’s proposal to set aside $1.5 million for a possible 2016 increase in paid parental leave for city employees was among the most debated potential additions.
Seattle in April became the first city in the Pacific Northwest to offer paid parental leave to its employees, after the council voted to provide them each with four weeks.
Calling four weeks inadequate and less time than parents in other developed countries are guaranteed, Sawant pressed the council to grow the benefit.
But Councilmember Jean Godden, who had championed four weeks of leave, opposed the increase. She called Sawant’s proposal fiscally irresponsible and premature and said the council should for now focus on advocating for parental leave in the private sector.
Council President Tim Burgess and Councilmembers Tom Rasmussen and John Okamoto joined Bagshaw and Godden on Monday in voting against the funding for 12 weeks, while Councilmembers Mike O’Brien and Nick Licata voted with Sawant and Harrell.
The council did pass a related proposal by Burgess, allocating an additional $78,000 to help the Seattle Department of Human Resources complete a “Workforce Equity Strategic Plan.”
That plan, initially lacking a due date, will now be due on July 1. It may include a recommendation to increase parental leave. Burgess described his proposal as more comprehensive than Sawant’s, and Bagshaw agreed.
Jaron Goddard, co-chair of the Seattle Women’s Commission, called the outcome a disappointment.
In an interview Monday, Harrell said he missed the Budget Committee meeting and the concession last week of his opponent in the Nov. 3 election because he was away for a previously scheduled family commitment. He declined to provide other details.
Tammy Morales garnered only 25 percent of the vote to Harrell’s 62 percent in a three-way primary election. But her campaign picked up momentum this fall, propelling her to within just a few hundred votes of Harrell in the general election.
“I’m glad we won and I never took it for granted,” Harrell said. “My take-away is that there’s a lot of disenchantment in District 2, which is the poorest area of town.”
He attributed his near loss to Morales’ hard work, “a lot of misinformation being disseminated about me” and low voter turnout.