In what she described as “not a feel-good budget,” Seattle City Council Budget Chair Teresa Mosqueda introduced Monday a series of budget revisions that take into account City Council’s input as well as “dire” financial projections.
Since a revenue shortfall projected by city analysts has grown to $141 million since the mayor proposed his budget in September, Mosqueda said she tried to keep the general shape of the mayor’s proposed budget in place, focusing on cuts to existing projects and services. However, her version challenges the new mayor’s plans for public safety.
“We had to make tough choices in this budget and invest in strategies that will allow for us to prevent cliffs, prevent austerity, prevent programs from ending before their need had diminished,” Mosqueda said when presenting the package of amendments Monday.
Mosqueda’s proposal includes adding $1.5 million more for abortion access, a $2 million add for mental health in schools in response to a fatal shooting at a North Seattle high school last week, and shifts in where Jumpstart payroll tax revenues are spent to align with the original spend plan, including restoring planned pay increases for Human Service Department workers.
While Mosqueda repeatedly praised Mayor Bruce Harrell and his administration for a collaborative process — and Harrell agreed there had been “a new level of teamwork” between the two branches — the mayor expressed concerns with some of Mosqueda’s changes late Monday.
“As we further review line-item specifics, we will advocate for changes in several places in the continued spirit of this ongoing collaborative process,” Harrell said in a written statement.
Some of the biggest shifts, and concerns from the mayor, centered on public safety — specifically, the Seattle Police Department budget.
Mosqueda maintains most of Harrell’s proposed spending for the Seattle Police Department. Her package continues to fund the same number of vacant police positions and $3.1 million of Harrell’s $4.3 million officer recruitment and retention plan — the trims come primarily from media services, not hiring incentives.
One of the most substantial cost shifts in Mosqueda’s series of amendments would nix Harrell’s plan to move parking enforcement officers and their roughly $20 million budget back to the Police Department after a messy attempt by the city to separate the civilian ticket-writers from the police in 2021.
When the employees were moved in response to 2020 police accountability protests, the city encountered union pushback, $5 million in unenforceable parking tickets and another $5 million in recurring, unfunded administrative costs.
While all parties seem to agree that the team needs a better, more permanent home, Mosqueda plans to keep the parking enforcement officers in the Seattle Department of Transportation for 2023, but cover the administrative costs with about $5 million from the stressed general fund and add another $3 million to provide new and overtime funds, as well as restoring 90 positions that were cut when the team was originally moved
This way, Mosqueda says, the employees are not being moved around “like a hot potato” before an interdepartmental task force makes a decision next year on which department should permanently house the team.
A spokesperson for Harrell said Monday that the mayor does not support this change.
“We would welcome a task force to identify how we can further support these workers, but this transfer should not be contingent on that task force when employees have already made their position clear,” Communications Director Jamie Housen wrote in a email.
Another tweak to the police budget in Mosqueda’s package would make permanent an $11 million trim proposed by Harrell, reducing the number of funded, unfilled positions in the department from 200 to 120.
Harrell introduced the reduction — which doesn’t trim any officers and allows the department to hire more than the realistic number of recruits — for the next two years. Mosqueda’s amendment would make that change continue in perpetuity, though the positions could be added back through the standard budget process at any point.
“Again, this is not a policy shift or opining on the number of officers,” Mosqueda said Monday. “This continues the policy that the mayor’s budget transmitted to ensure that funding is available in the general fund and that the department retains positions and salaries as they’ve defined.”
Housen said the mayor’s office opposes the “permanent” change, noting that funding the unfilled positions would offer the department flexibility “when staffing levels recover.”
Councilmember Alex Pedersen echoed Harrell’s concerns on both items after seeing the balancing package, saying Mosqueda’s changes “weaken” Harrell’s public safety-focused budget.
“While I appreciate the hard work and positive investments of the City Budget Chair’s rebalancing package, it seems out of touch with communities demanding faster progress on public safety,” Pedersen wrote in an email.
Council members have until Thursday to submit amendments, which will be debated on Nov. 21, and will take a final vote on the budget Nov. 29.
Members of the public can weigh in during the final budget hearing on Tuesday at 5 p.m. in person in the council chambers of Seattle City Hall or remotely by calling in. For more details visit https://www.seattle.gov/council/.