Mayor Jenny Durkan. (Photo by ajderrick, Wikimedia Commons)

Mayor Jenny Durkan delivered her first budget address today at Fire Station 10. While the mayor had broadcast her desire to trim department budgets by 2% to 5%, ultimately her budget proposal increased the City’s budget to $5.9 billion, with police and transportation spending leading the way.

The budget includes $1.32 billion in general-funding spending, which is a $60 million jump from this year’s budgeted $1.26 billion in general-funding spending on a $5.6 billion total. A big chunk of the remainder is devoted to city-owned utilities like Seattle City Light and Seattle Public Utilities. Mayor Durkan said the budget does reflect $50 million in cuts she found, such as eliminating 150 open positions and tightening up discretionary spending on travel and consultants.

Public safety spending would jump 10% to $695 million, allowing the City to recruit 120 firefighters, hire 40 new police officers, and give police officers a raise–their first since 2014. The budget would also fund the Community Service Officer program, which replaces armed officers with plainclothes ones who focus on community needs.

Meanwhile, spending on housing and homelessness would get a modest $2.8 million increase to $89.5 million. The housing fact sheet also promised “[l]ater this year, Mayor Durkan will announce more than $70 million for affordable housing development.” That’s down from $100 million the Seattle Office of Housing brought in this year, buoyed by $29 million in bonding and a strong year for incentive zoning.

Transportation spending would increase $130 million to $609 million next biennium under Mayor Durkan’s plan, although some of that money is Move Seattle levy dollars leftover from earlier years.

The transportation funding surge includes a 63% increase in adaptive signals or Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) which urbanists have criticized for kicking pedestrians to the curb and extending wait times and frustrating people walking, biking, or taking transit.

On the other hand, both Vision Zero and transit corridor improvements appear conspicuously left out of the mayor’s budget bump. Vision Zero and “Safe Routes” gets $26.7 million in the Mayor’s 2019 budget, down from $28.4 million in 2018. And transit corridor improvement funding–which dovetails with Vision Zero in an ideal world–is also down, at $29.7 million proposed next year compared to $42.7 million this year.

The Mayor’s Office listed the follow investments on its transportation budget factsheet (emphasis and links mine).

  • “A 30 percent increase in Metro service in the next two years by requesting 100,000 additional Metro service hours for key routes in addition to the existing 270,000 service hours;
  • $9 million for new capital investments to improve transit speed and reliability with new transit pathways, build new multimodal corridors, and upgrade bus zones for passengers;
  • Continuing the ORCA Opportunity program, which provides free ORCA passes to Seattle Public Schools high school students and Seattle Promise students;
  • $1 million to help low-income residents access transit;
  • $4 million for new first- and last-mile bus connections to access transit hubs like light rail;
  • $2.3 million to support Sound Transit 3, including project planning to advance work on Graham Street Station;
  • $14 million to support the costs of the First Hill Streetcar and South Lake Union Streetcar;
  • $26.7 million to support safe routes, including pedestrian and bike safety, and Vision Zero improvements;
  • $20 million for bike paths and trails;
  • $38 million for freight mobility;
  • $34 million for new sidewalks and other pedestrian improvements; and
  • $15.3 million of new investments – including 20 new full-time employees – to support Move Seattle deliverables including: $5 million for additional curb ramp construction; $4.1 million for sidewalk repairs; $1.4 million for greenways; a new $1.1 million for the Northgate Bridge and Protected Bike Lane to enhance access to the planned Northgate Sound Transit Station; and $550,000 for pedestrian lighting.”
  • $101.6 million to provide maintenance and replacement of key roads, trails, bike paths, and bridges, including: $4.1 million for sidewalk maintenance, an increase of over $2 million from 2018 levels; $50.4 million for road maintenance; $42.4 million to maintain bridges and other key structures; and $1.1 million for trails and bike paths.”
  • “An additional $3.7 million to support mobility downtown; and
  • Updated street use fees to incentivize best practices, so that projects slowing down traffic or blocking transit lanes or sidewalks pay a higher rate than projects that do not.”

Next the budget heads to the city council for a month-long debate on what should be included or taken out of the mayor’s proposal. Next Thursday, the public will have their first chance to weigh in on budget priorities with a hearing at city hall at 5:30pm.

Those budget deliberations may shed light on whether the Center City Connector streetcar project will survive. Mayor Durkan has yet to officially rule it in or rule it out, but sounded surprisingly optimistic in a press briefing. The contours of the Move Seattle Reset may also be clearer as the budget is hashed out. Mayor Durkan mentioned new bus lanes in her speech, but it isn’t yet clear bus lanes will be as extensive as promised in the Move Seattle levy, which pledged seven RapidRide corridors across the city. 

The new budget would spend $29.66 million on “Corridor Mobility” improvements in 2019 and $$25.5 million in 2020, down from 42.7 million in 2018. (City of Seattle)

Mayor Durkan’s budget would lower spending on corridor mobility over previous years. Without corridor improvements like dedicated lanes and transit signal priority, new Metro service could get bogged down in congestion rather than boosting frequencies and bettering the lives of transit riders.

Overall, the boost in transit funding is promising, but there are also counterproductive investments like those in adaptive signals, which make congested streets even more hostile to people walking and biking and encourage more people to drive–not the actions of a climate mayor. And housing funding is plateauing when it should be jumping.

The featured image is by Ajderrick used via Wikimedia Commons.

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Doug Trumm is publisher of The Urbanist. An Urbanist writer since 2015, he dreams of pedestrianizing streets, blanketing the city in bus lanes, and unleashing a mass timber building spree to end the affordable housing shortage and avert our coming climate catastrophe. He graduated from the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Washington in 2019. He lives in East Fremont and loves to explore the city on his bike.