By Mike Andrew
By the time you read this, the Seattle City Council will have passed the budget they crafted in a November 14 Budget Committee meeting involving all nine Council members.
Acting on the recommendations of Council Budget Chair Nick Licata and Council members Kshama Sawant and Mike O’Brien, the Council added $8.5 million to Mayor Ed Murray’s draft budget, for a total $4.8 billion two-year package.
Licata, Sawant, and O’Brien were backed up by a People’s Budget hearing held October 30. The purpose of the People’s Budget hearing was for community and labor activists to give input on what their constituencies actually need from a City budget.
PSARA President Robby Stern participated, along with Council member Sawant; Council member Licata’s legislative assistant Newell Aldrich; Sharon Lee of the Low Income Housing Institute; Paul Bigman, representing the Martin Luther King County Labor Council; Juan Jose Bocanegra of El Comite; Carino Barragan of Casa Latina; Katie Wilson of the Transit Riders Union; John Fox representing the Seattle Displacement Coalition; and Julia Ismael and Steve Dashle from Seattle Human Services Coalition.
Perhaps the biggest change to the Mayor’s proposal was the addition of budget items to help low-wage workers.
First, the City Council added funding to raise the wages of the lowest-income City workers to $15 per hour in 2015, rather than making them wait to be phased-in with private sector workers.
Second, the Council voted to provide minimum-wage funding for the City’s non-profit social services contractors, so that workers who provide necessary services for Seattle’s most vulnerable residents can also see their wages rise more rapidly.
Finally, the Council added funding to support the new Office of Labor Standards, which will enforce the City’s minimum wage, paid sick days, and wage theft ordinances. One million dollars was added for community outreach to inform workers of their rights, and almost $200,000 was allocated for investigators, to start in 2015.
The council also voted $400,000 to fund Career Bridge, an Urban League program that links men of color – including those who may have been incarcerated – with jobs and assistance. Last year, the council declined to fund the project.
An additional $500,000 was added over the two-year budget to implement a paid parental leave policy for City workers of any gender.
The Council added more than $1.2 million over the two years of the budget for homeless services, including additional services for encampments – the first time the City Council has embraced homeless camps as a viable stopgap for our poorest residents. The Council also added funding for a year-round low-barrier women’s shelter.
Council members also added an additional $150,000 for Youth Care, for outreach and services to homeless youth. The money will be used in part to pay an outreach manager to be present fulltime at Westlake Park downtown, and/or Cal Anderson Park on Capitol Hill where many homeless youth congregate.
To pay for the dozen or so additions to Mayor Murray’s budget, the Council agreed to investigate – but not yet act on – Council member Sawant’s proposal for a millionaire tax. Sawant’s idea of cutting salaries for the City’s elected officials and upper level managers went nowhere, however.
While the City’s new budget is clearly progressive, and certainly an improvement over the Mayor’s draft proposal, not all the ideas put forward at the October 30 People’s Budget hearing made it in. On behalf of PSARA, Robby Stern set out a number of concerns that still need to be addressed by the City:
- Sidewalk and other infrastructure repair.
- Increased budgets for the city’s Senior Centers.
- Assistance for low-income people to pay for utilities and transit service.
- Ending Seattle Housing Authority’s so-called Stepping Forward plan to increase rents on SHA’s low-income housing units by as much as 500% over the next six years.
“It’s outrageous, and we have a lot of seniors in Seattle housing,” he said about the plan. “We’ve got to stop that plan. The City Council should be taking that pledge [to not reappoint SHA board members who support Stepping Forward]. We’ve got to change who is on that board.”