After zero trumpet fanfare and no confetti (c’mon, you guys, get your pomp and circumstance together), Mayor Mike McGinn announced his 2014 proposed budget today. For the first time since he came into office, he’s not making dramatic cuts and instead is starting to expand what the general fund can do. Thanks, economy!
The proposed budget is $4.4 billion, of which $1 billion is in the general fund. The mayor turned to the council and recalled the bloodbath of cuts they’ve all had to oversee the last few years, and seems to be relishing in the fact that he finally gets to have a fun budget. His proposed budget funds more cops, senior centers, homeless services, domestic violence services, gender pay equity, an empowerment institute for refugee women, a ton of traffic and pedestrian safety improvements around schools, more neighborhood matching funds, universal preschool planning, road maintenance, kittens, free pot for everyone, and a new bike for you! And you! And YOU! (Just checking to see if you’re still reading.)
Council Member Tim Burgess, head of the budget committee, has released a statement in response, saying that while McGinn has “proposed some significant increases in spending," he "has yet to provide evidence that those increases would be an effective use of taxpayer dollars.” But he doesn’t call a single specific item out as not being evidence-based. We have a call in to him for comment; his full statement is at the end of this post.
UPDATE: I spoke with Burgess briefly this afternoon to clarify. He told me the mayor is "definitely opening the checkbook," but when I asked him if there were any specific items in the mayor's budget that seem not to be as evidence-based as he'd like or that he's concerned about, he said no. But, he cautioned, "We're just starting our review."
To break it down a little further, some notable budget features this year:
• They’re on track to pump the rainy-day fund up to its highest level ever, at $34.7 million—“not just to pre-recession levels,” McGinn noted in his speech, but to a record level of funding. The mayor is supes proud of it.
• He mentioned tanking federal and state funding in his speech, but didn’t specifically call out this fact: Apparently, this is the first year that the city’s general fund contribution to human services is actually higher than external contributions—that means we’re putting more dollars into human services than the state, federal, and other grants we used to rely on to fund the social safety net. The city’s trying to backfill the dollars it’s lost in outside money, but that’s a fundamental shift in how we pay for things, and they’re not there yet.
• This budget funds 15 new police officers, which brings the total of new officers in the 2013-2014 budget to 42. McGinn says it’s the “highest authorized staffing level ever for SPD.”
• The Human Services Department has been working to create a domestic violence response center to coordinate city services to survivors, and this budget will create and fund that center; it should open mid-year 2014 and cost $125,000 for that half year.
• Nearly a million dollars ($921,000 to be exact) will go to improved maintenance of traffic signals—re-timing, maintaining, and replacing signals. Commenters who have been complaining about traffic lights, there you go.
• $100,000 will go to fund the Fresh Bucks program, which I’ve written about before. This program should absolutely become a regular line-item instead of being up for debate each year.
• A big winner of this budget is South Seattle organization Got Green, which has been lobbying the city for a targeted local hire ordinance, which this budget funds some planning for, and funding for Fresh Bucks. Got Green works on issues around the intersection of environmentalism and racial and economic justice, and if you want to lobby effectively, I guess you should go learn from them.
Council Member Tim Burgess’s full (sassy!) statement on the budget:
Mayor McGinn has proposed some significant increases in spending but has yet to provide evidence that those increases would be an effective use of taxpayer dollars. We want to fund what works, but we need solid evidence of results. We have tough decisions to make, and the Council takes its role as stewards of the public’s money very seriously.
The people of Seattle face serious challenges in public safety, transportation, education and affordability. The City Council will carefully review the Mayor’s proposed budget and make any changes necessary to ensure these challenges are addressed.