Budget season begins
Fall is budget season for City Council. We grab our rod, our reels, our thermoses, and we head out into small boats to sit quietly and wait to hook unsubstantiated budget adds.
That metaphor is a stretch, but not too far off in some respects. The Mayor and City Departments have worked hard all summer to put together a budget for 2014. Monday, Sept. 23, Mayor McGinn presented that proposed budget to City Council. Now it's our turn as a Council to go through the budget carefully to make sure that we're spending and saving in the ways that make most sense for Seattle's current priorities and future needs.
No doubt some of us will disagree with some of the many new spending proposals set out by the Mayor (where would the action be if we didn't?), but the budget the Mayor has proposed contains indisputably good news -- revenues into the city (business and occupation taxes, a slice of sales tax, slices of property taxes and real estate excise taxes) have started to grow modestly. The total proposed 2014 budget clocks in at $4.4 billion, which is 1.9% more than what the budget office projected last year. The share of general fund spending tops $1 billion for the first time, a milestone that causes me some discomfort. Contributors to that milestone include proposed new programs, but also backfilling for decreases in state and federal funds to city programs.
While this won't be a year where we have to make drastic cuts, that doesn't mean we shouldn't be concerned about long-term sustainability in city spending. Any growth in City investments must be sustainable, well-reasoned, and reflective of our City priorities.
The proposed 2014 budget contains a variety of areas for new investment this year, all of which need a close look to make sure our investments pay off for Seattle. Here are a few areas I'm digging into:
- Human Services and Housing: Investments we make to support the homeless should be focused on creating and maintaining permanent housing options. I support increased funding to support those who are facing housing crises - people coming out of domestic violence situations, youth who have been kicked out of their home for being LGBT. At the same time research shows again and again that the best way to end homelessness is to prevent it upstream, but when that fails, rapidly housing with supportive services as needed. Our dollars should follow proven strategy.
- Public Safety: I'll be looking for investments that allow us to focus on safety in all Seattle neighborhoods. This could mean funding for more officers. It could mean redistributing how public safety resources are spent. It definitely means a focus on mental health supportive services.
- Education: Preschool for all! Read Councilmember Burgess's recent blog post to find out more. Preschool for all reduces opportunity gaps and gets kids on the right path for elementary school, high school, and eventually higher education. The proposed 2014 budget includes funding to better train preschool teachers. On the other end, I'd like to see us expand access to college and career training.
- Construction Careers and Target Hire: Connecting good, career-track construction jobs on City projects with City residents in need of good, career-track construction jobs just makes sense. We just adopted a joint resolution establishing a path to a Target Hire program that would require a minimum number of disadvantaged Seattle workers on City capital jobs. The proposed budget includes funding to move this forward.
- Transportation: We'll dig deeply into the transportation budget. I hear people demanding basic road maintenance from all over the city. I, also, hear from people looking to see their tax dollars manifested as great cycle tracks and sidewalks.
Councilmembers will work in public sessions from now until almost Thanksgiving. We'll quiz staff about what's in the proposed budget (and what's not). As important as the staff research will be what we hear from you about priorities and specific needs. Here's a webpage that describes the Council's budget work, including the public hearing opportunities. I hope you'll come to a budget hearing to talk about what you believe the priorities should be for the 2014 budget.
You can also e-mail me at email@example.com or call my office at 206-684-8802 if you want to leave a comment for me with one of my staffers. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.