Seattle City Council's 2021 Draft Budget

Today CM Mosqueda presented the City Council’s 2021 draft budget. No big surprises here, but let’s dig right in. You can take a look at the presentation slide deck yourself.

Proponents of the Solidarity Budget and large-scale change and divestment in SPD might be disappointed by this proposal, which falls far short of requests to defund from SPD by 50%, maintain the SPD hiring freeze, and make large-scale investments into community. In her opening remarks on public safety in Seattle, CM Mosqueda suggested she thinks the City is on the right path but has not yet reached a turning point. She emphasized this was the first year the Council had not increased SPD’s budget, and referenced the roadblocks they have faced. Her goal appears to be to introduce measured steps towards divestment in police and reinvestment in community resources and organizations, giving those organizations time to scale up and build capacity.

The main danger with this approach is perhaps the possibility that the political will to make this large-scale change in how the City approaches public safety will diminish as time passes. Indeed, we already saw CM Pedersen today distancing himself from the quite modest cuts to SPD represented in this proposed budget in spite of lots of assurances in past weeks that he stands against systemic racism. CM Juarez, on the other hand, was much more supportive of this plan than she was of the summer plan. At its best, this plan could cause further divestment from SPD to be more successful, with community organizations being better prepared to step in and serve their communities after 2021’s round of investments.

Interestingly, in a press release yesterday the Mayor signaled tentative approval of this new budget proposal. In spite of her $100m BIPOC communities investment being significantly shrunk (more on that in a moment), she has to be pleased that the Council is not attempting to downsize the police force any further than they committed to this past summer. It seems possible the Mayor might not feel the need to veto this budget. Opponents will say this means the budget didn’t go far enough, but on the bright side, this increases the likelihood that investments this budget makes will actually be spent.

Public Safety/Community Investments

  • The Mayor’s $100m investment into BIPOC communities, otherwise known as the Equitable Communities Initiative, will be shrunk to $30m, with a proviso: “The Council intends that these funds should be allocated towards investments that reflect alignment between the Task Force’s recommendations and recommendations from the Participatory Budgeting process.”

  • $30m will be restored to the Strategic Investment Fund

  • $18m will be allocated to the participatory budget process, in addition to $12m for this process obtained through SPD cuts, for a total of $30m

  • the $10m promised in the summer’s rebalancing will be allocated to community-led public safety investments

  • $1.08m will be restored for the Office of Civil Rights to provide funding for community organizations providing alternatives to or alleviating harm caused by the criminal justice system

SPD Changes/Alternatives to Policing

  • oh so many reports! The Council is asking for all the reports they asked for in the summer, as well as reports on SPD overtime use, monthly reports on police staffing, a traffic stops report, a report on using PEOs for special events, and a report on 911 response times.

  • Creation of the new Community Safety and Communications Center

  • a Statement of Legislative Intent about the new 911 Call Center

  • annualizing various SPD budget cuts from travel, training, and discretionary purchases from the summer

  • abrogating 93 vacant police officer positions

  • moving mental health providers to HSD and hiring eleven additional

  • cut $6.1m from SPD for vacancy savings and $3.7m from SPD for overtime savings; also proviso $5m for potential salary savings

  • Proviso for out-of-order layoffs for 35 officers (this is a carry-over from summer)

  • Health One expansion

  • a consulting nurse and crisis counselor for SFD’s dispatch

  • $550k for a DEEL restorative justice pilot program and a few other small expenditures

Other Budget Points of Note

The Council’s proposal refills the City emergency funds to almost $40m, which is in contrast to the Mayor’s proposal, which drained them, leaving them practically empty. It also continues work towards figuring out a replacement for the Navigation Team. I believe the cuts to the SPD still amount to around 17%, most of which is achieved through moving units outside the force.

Next Steps

After the CMs turn in their Form Cs by Thursday evening, the Council will discuss amendments on November 18 and 19, and vote on the final budget on Monday, November 23. There will be public comment at the beginning of each of these meetings.