The Seattle Council proposes $35 million in cuts to the Seattle Police Department (SPD), whose bloated budget reached $409 million in 2019 thanks to the lucrative 2018 union contract and runaway overtime spending. The rebalancing package includes a further $3.7 million cut to the overtime budget, which had hit a whopping $30 million this year. Mayor Durkan also transferred $40 million in spending out of SPD by spinning off parking enforcement and 9-1-1 emergency call center, but hadn’t included many actual cuts. The $75 million reduction to the SPD budget works out to an 18% cut, a far cry from the 50% SPD cut that had been the rallying cry for protesters under the banner of Decriminalize Seattle and King County Equity Now.
Those groups mobilized the Solidarity Budget coalition (which The Urbanist joined) and are asking the Council for deeper cuts to the police budget. They have a petition asking for no new cops by writing a further $10 million transfer from SPD’s budget to Participatory Budget investing in the community, which would ensure the police officer hiring freeze continues next year. The petition also champions a few other budget changes:
- Restore two sidewalk projects in Beacon Hill ($550,000)
- Include funding for Green New Deal weatherization and electrification ($1 million)
- Boost funding for self-managed homeless tiny house communities ($800,000)
- Fund the Scofflaw Mitigation Program for people living in their cars and RVs
Budget additions this late in the process will now have to come with budget reductions elsewhere to fund them–dubbed Form C amendments is Council-speak. The Move All Seattle Substainably (MASS) coalition is urging Councilmembers to sign on to the Beacon Hill sidewalk amendment and the other Form Cs in the Solidarity Budget.
While the Mayor’s budget funded 1400 sworn officer positions–which would soon require lifting the hiring freeze–the Council ended up funding a force of 1322 officers. They arrived at this number by seeking 35 out-of-order police officers, targeting the worst cops on brutality and misconduct, and abrogating (eliminating) 93 positions once they become vacant through retirements or departures.
The proposal finishes and slightly expands upon the Council’s work from this summer when they sought a 100-position reduction at SPD. Police Chief Carmen Best’s retired in protest and Mayor Durkan cited the police cuts in her veto statement. Even the Council’s proposal would likely require significant hiring next year, particularly if the uptick in officers leaving SPD in September (39 in one month) is the start of a trend.
This time around, Mayor Durkan said she can live with the Council’s budget changes, signaling a tentative truce has formed between Mayor and Councilmembers following intense battles this summer over protests, police accountability, banning chemical weapons, and the 2020 rebalancing package (which she vetoed and they overrode).
Perhaps the new cooperation is also built on the fact that Mayor Durkan leaned heavily on JumpStart Seattle corporate payroll tax to avoid deep budget cuts, diverting revenue to plug holes caused by the Covid pandemic and subsequent recession. If not for the Council’s swift action there–which the Mayor fought at the time and declined to sign–Seattle would be looking at deep cuts to basic services. The JumpStart revenue also ended up composing the bulk of Mayor Durkan’s $100 million pledge to Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC), which she intends to distribute via her handpicked Equitable Communities task force.
The Council’s rebalancing package reduced the Mayor’s Equitable Communities fund to $30 million, rejecting the deception of diverting funding set aside for other investments in communities of color to fund a shiny new process. In an interesting case of symmetry, the Council also dedicated about $30 million (largely from the SPD budget) to a Participatory Budgeting process led by King County Equity Now and including a broader more democratic process than the Mayor’s anointed task force.
The Council also sought to ramp up alternatives to policing, which includes $550,000 for a restorative justice pilot program and $480,000 for a Health One expansion, a program both Mayor and Council have lifted up for providing a robust emergency response without relying on police. There’s also $4.2 million for tiny house village expansions, $1 million for homelessness outreach services, and another $1 million for mobile crisis teams.
Other notable changes Councilmember Mosqueda and her colleagues made to the budget include restoration of the $30 million Strategic Investment Fund promised last year via Mercer Megablock proceeds and intended for things like affordable housing and small business incubation.
Transportation and Climate adds include:
- $5.2 million to build the Georgetown-to-South Park Trail (MASS package)
- $934,000 million for Rainier Avenue sidewalk improvements
- $400,000 for Southeast Seattle bike route planning on MLK Way and Georgetown-to-Downtown
- $500,000 for Route 44 upgrade project
- $777,000 for Thomas Street Redesign
- $4,000,000 for the bridge maintenance study sought by Councilmember Alex Pedersen
- $132,000 for the Green New Deal Advisor position at the Office of Sustainability and Environment (OSE)
- $140,000 for the Climate Policy Advisor position at the OSE
Sign the Solidarity Budget petition if you’d like to see more of these priorities enacted.
Doug Trumm is the executive director 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. He lives in East Fremont and loves to explore the city on his bike.