Politics Nickels’s 2nd Opinion
Earlier this week, Mayor Nickels released a statement supporting City Attorney Tom Carr’s challenge to I-87, a city initiative being pushed by the teachers’ union to raise property taxes to fund kindergarten and shrink class sizes.
But Nickels’s press release doesn’t even address the city attorney’s reasoning for challenging I-87. (Carr appealed the initiative on the grounds that citizens are not allowed to write city budgets by initiative.)
It seems to me that Nickels was using Carr’s legal challenge as cover to launch a separate line of attack. Nickels’s press release charges that “the initiatives would… not address the growing $20 million budget gap [the school district] is already facing. Throwing money at the wrong problems will only make matters worse.”
It’d be one thing if Nickels sent out a press release that simply seconded the City Attorney’s legal reasoning, but I’m not sure it’s kosher for him to send out a press release that is a blatant campaign piece against an initiative.
I put a call in to the city ethics office to check this out.
I’ve attached both press releases below.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Ruth Bowman
Seattle City Attorney's Office
City of Seattle Asks Court to Decide Whether Proposed Initiative 87 Violates State Law
The City of Seattle today filed a lawsuit asking the King County Superior Court to declare that Initiative 87, which dictates how Seattle must spend money that could be raised by a property tax levy proposed by Initiative 88, violates state laws that prescribe how Seattle must make its budgeting decisions. Under state law, expenditures must be determined by the mayor and city council. There is no provision in state law for budgeting through the city initiative process.
Section 3 of Initiative 87 requires that the City provide to the Seattle School District an amount of money equal to all the funds that could be raised by Initiative 88 during the years 2008 through 2013. Section 4 of Initiative 87, in turn, provides in detail how those funds must be spent.
In contrast, state law details a specific process controlling how a city of over 300,000 people must make its budgeting decisions. Some of these provisions are as follows:
RCW 35.32A.020 provides that a city with over three hundred thousand population shall have a budget director appointed by the mayor and approved by the city council.
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RCW 35.32A.030 provides that "[t]he budget director shall assemble all estimates of revenues; necessary departmental expenditures; interest and redemption requirements for any city debt; and other pertinent budgetary information as may be required by uniform regulations of the state auditor; and, under the direction of the mayor, prepare a proposed budget for presentation to the city council.”
RCW 35.32A.030 further provides that "[t]he mayor shall submit the proposed budget to the city council not later than ninety days prior to the beginning of the ensuing fiscal year.”
RCW 35.32A.040 provides that "The city council shall forthwith consider the proposed budget submitted by the mayor and shall cause such public hearings to be scheduled on two or more days to allow all interested persons to be heard.”
RCW 35.32A.040 provides that "[t]he city council may insert new expenditure allowances, increase or decrease expenditure allowances recommended by the mayor, or revise estimates of revenues subject to the same restrictions as are herein imposed on the mayor; but may not adopt a budget in which the total expenditure allowances exceed the total estimated revenues as defined in RCW 35.32A.030 for the ensuing fiscal year.”
RCW 35.32A.050 provides that "Not later than thirty days prior to the beginning of the ensuing fiscal year the city council shall by ordinance adopt the budget submitted by the mayor as modified by the city council.” It further provides that "[t]he expenditure allowances as set forth in the enacted budget shall constitute the budget appropriations for the ensuing fiscal year.”
RCW 35.32A.050 further provides that "[t]he city council by ordinance may, during the fiscal year covered by the enacted budget, abrogate or decrease any unexpended allowance contained within the budget and reappropriate such unexpended allowances for other functions or programs.” It also provides that "[t]ransfers between allowances in the budget of any department, division or agency may be made upon approval by the budget director pursuant to such regulations as may be prescribed by ordinance.”
RCW 35.32A.060 provides that after the annual budget is adopted, supplemental appropriations may be made for certain purposes by ordinances approved by supermajority votes of the city council.
Finally, RCW 35.32A.090 provides that all spending not authorized "in the final budget as adopted or modified as provided in this chapter” is illegal.
The City currently provides funding to support education through the $116 million Families and Education Levy passed in 2004. This was a renewal of levies passed in 1990 and 1997. This funding is appropriated through the normal city budget process.
City Attorney Tom Carr said: "The purpose of this lawsuit is very limited. We are only challenging this one initiative because it purports to take budgeting decisions away from the Mayor and City Council. Funding for education is important, but so is funding for police officers, fire fighters, homeless services, library hours and the many other good things that our city does. The state legislature provided a specific process for making these tough choices. In that process, it did not include the use of the city initiative.”
The lawsuit seeks only a declaration regarding Initiative 87. If a judge invalidates Initiative 87, Initiative 88 could still be presented to the City council and could also
go to the voters. If the voters were to approve Initiative 88 the City Council could, but would not have to, raise some or all of the taxes authorized by Initiative 88, and could appropriate those funds for educational purposes through the normal budgetary process.
Mayor's statement on city attorney's challenge to I-87
City Attorney Tom Carr made the right call today in filing a legal challenge to Initiative 87. The Seattle School District is struggling to get its fiscal house in order and improve student achievement. But this measure and its companion proposal, Initiative 88, do not solve those problems.
As written, the initiatives would require the district to increase spending on new programs and teachers, not address the growing $20 million budget gap it is already facing. Throwing money at the wrong problems will only make matters worse.
The path forward for ours schools is clear. First, the Seattle School District must heed the recommendations of its Superintendent's Committee and make the hard choices necessary to balance its books and invest in academic excellence in our schools.
Second, we must demand that the state fulfill its constitutionally "paramount duty” to adequately and fairly fund public education. Inside the classroom, state education funding is supposed to provide a level playing field for all of Washington's kids. Currently, Washington ranks 42nd in the nation for education spending. Having Washington ranked in the bottom 10 is unacceptable. I've challenged the legislature and governor to lift our state into the "Top 10 by 2010.”
Seattle strongly supports our school district through the $117 million Families and Education Levy. In addition to Seattle's other school district levies -- which are already among the highest in the state -- this money helps kids outside the classroom by paying for such things as drop-out prevention efforts, after school programs, family support workers and preschool for low-income families.
The challenges facing Seattle Schools demand a thoughtful solution. The city will continue to work with the district to support strong schools in every neighborhood and academic excellence in every classroom.