A City Budget Re-Focused on Today's Needs
Tomorrow morning my colleagues and I will take dozens of votes to modify next year's city budget. It will be the next-to-final step in our eight week process of receiving, evaluating and adjusting the Mayor's budget proposal.
I'm going to advocate for significant changes that will expand care for our most vulnerable neighbors, enhance transportation mobility by repairing streets and improving the speed and reliability of transit corridors and improve public safety. In essence, the changes I will be advocating for are all about focusing on the basics and paying attention to the urgent, immediate needs we have today.
Caring for the Most Vulnerable
Since I joined the Council five years ago, we have steadfastly guarded our investments in direct human services. In fact, the Council has even increased these investments each year.
This year will be no different. I will support a targeted increase in funding for domestic violence prevention and for services for the victims of this terrible and often invisible crime. The same for emergency food services, shelter, day center services and rapid re-housing efforts designed to get our homeless neighbors off the street and into permanent housing.
A year ago, at my urging, the Council added nearly $500,000 to an amazing program that helps first time Moms living in poverty. The Nurse Family Partnership (NFP) sends specially-trained nurses into the homes of these Moms. The nurse helps the Mom early in her pregnancy and continues to visit until her child reaches age two.
The results are stunningly good—improved school readiness for children; improved child health and development; improved economic self-sufficiency for Moms; reduced criminal involvement of the Moms and children; and much lower government and societal costs. Investing early pays huge dividends later. (Read this one-page summary of NFP for all the facts.)
Tomorrow, I will be urging my colleagues to take this highly effective program to scale. If we do, Seattle will become only the third major U.S. city to reach every qualified Mom who wishes to participate.
Enhancing Transportation Mobility
I doubt there's anyone who travels around Seattle much who doesn't have a complaint about the condition of our streets, the speed or reliability of transit services or bicycle and pedestrian safety. We've got significant transportation mobility challenges caused by inadequately maintained streets and sidewalks and a historic failure to address diverse mobility options.
But, we dare not overlook our immediate challenges as we seek to address the long-term issues. That's why I am supporting several changes to the Mayor's proposed transportation budget, including adding funds for street repairs and redirecting funds to improve high priority bus corridors. I will also support delaying planning of a possible Eastlake streetcar line so we can pay for streetcar lines we've already started (and that are still underfunded).
Improving Public Safety
The Mayor proposed spending nearly $1 million for a new gunshot locator system of microphones and video cameras to be installed in select areas of the city with high levels of gun violence. It is a fascinating technology, but unfortunately there is no empirical evidence that these systems either reduce gun violence or lead to more arrests of gun offenders. Without such evidence, I instead favor spending our limited resources on interventions that have been proven to reduce gun violence—(1) problem-oriented policing efforts, (2) directed police patrols in areas where crime is geographically concentrated, and (3) an intense focus on the relatively few individuals who cause the most persistent harm. These strategies work, especially when they are done in close cooperation with the community. I will support shifting the money for the gunshot locator system to the hiring of more police officers to pursue these objectives.
In 2008, I led the Council's work, in collaboration with then-Mayor Nickels, to develop and launch our Youth Violence Prevention Initiative. I continue to support the Initiative, but we need stronger oversight and a better understanding of who we are serving. I will support an immediate increase of $361,000 in order to implement a new risk assessment instrument and to increase mentoring and other services for youth already enrolled in the Initiative.
The Council has been waiting for nearly three years for a thorough evaluation of this program; the indicators we do have do not show significant progress. The Mayor has proposed a $1 million expansion of the Initiative, but I will only support further expansion after the City Auditor has established a new evaluation plan and process. This work can easily be completed over the next few months.
Before the budget process began, the Council unanimously passed Resolution 31404 to emphasize our focus on outcomes and measurable performance. We must make sure we achieve the right results. Results matter to us, results matter to taxpayers and, most importantly, results matter to the kids receiving our services. We have a moral obligation to do what's best for our kids. Let's ask the tough questions and get the evaluation framework in place.
This has been my first year as Budget Committee Chair and I'm grateful for the dedicated and thoughtful work of my colleagues and for the energy and engagement of the public (including the more than 1,000 people who took our online budget survey).
Tomorrow morning we'll vote on the individual changes and then formally adopt the 2013 budget on Monday, November 19.