“How did it get so late so soon? It's night before it's afternoon.” - Dr. Seuss
by Michael Sarko
- The Capitol Hill Times -
Since September 23, Seattle City Council has been reviewing Mayor Mike McGinn’s proposed 2014 city budget. In 2014, Seattle’s operating budget will be $4.4 billion, marking an increase of $300 million from 2013. While that growth has been called “gradual” by the mayor’s Executive Summary, it also serves as the foundation for the first City Budget since 2009 that does not include major program cuts.
One of the most significant reasons for a sunny fiscal outlook in 2014 is a recent stabilization in real estate excise taxes. A slim majority of the money for the City’s General Fund, on which many programs rely, comes from property taxes. After a spike in 2007 to over $70 million in property tax receipts, Seattle felt the real estate bubble burst, resulting in a loss of more than $40 million in tax revenue from all areas, including residential and commercial properties. This income remained tepid for the next several years until the market returned to steady, pre-recession levels. Projections for property tax receipts remain level through 2016, at which point the projection stops.
The reason that Seattle’s financial woes and resulting program cuts weren’t deeper at the height of the recession was the so-called Rainy Day Fund, an emergency account into which the City pays at various levels each year. A majority of the RDF went to shoring up budget shortfalls in 2009 and 2010, with new funds refilling the account through this year. Today, the budgets of Mayor McGinn’s tenure have returned Seattle’s RDF to good health, standing at $4 million more than it did in 2008.
Public safety funding is the centerpiece of McGinn’s 2014 budget. It doesn’t diverge greatly from the City’s expenditure in that area from years past, rising to 56.4 percent of the General Fund from 56.2 percent in 2010, and allocating approximately $20 million more than the 2013 budget, thanks to a much larger General Fund. This additional public safety money will go toward purchasing new vehicles and hiring several new police officers (the first job listings for which appeared online this month), as well as expanding several programs outside the Seattle Police Department. The Center City Initiative, for example, has been deemed successful in its pilot stage, leading to its expansion in the coming years to extend services like Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) that connects those struggling with mental health and substance addiction to health services rather than taking them to jail.
Seattle’s Human Services budget will also see a small but meaningful increase in the mayor’s 2014 budget, enjoying a $5.6 million improvement over the current allocation. This includes a reported $850,000 more for homeless shelters, hygiene centers and safe parking spaces. Other programs, such as domestic violence support and senior service centers, will also receive hundreds of thousands of dollars more than their 2013 budgets afforded.
Public education mostly relies on state and federal funding. While the City of Seattle has little jurisdiction in that matter, it does have the ability to create support programs to strengthen education in the greater metropolitan area. Mayor McGinn’s proposed budget allots an increase of $500,000 to early education programs, especially supporting and expanding the Early Learning Academy and the Comprehensive Child Care Program.
Transit takes up the second-largest portion of the 2014 Proposed Budget, dispersing funding both for rail development and road improvements. Millions will go to road, bridge and signal maintenance that suffered during the recession, expanding biking and pedestrian paths, and continuing with the design process for several transit developments around the city. This includes plans for new transit around Ballard, and coming to a final design for the Center City Connector project.
The mayor’s new Gender Equity Task Force, created to investigate and address gender gaps in employment and pay in City departments, will receive $1.5 million to fund its studies and preliminary programs. For further information about the task force, see this week’s article about its creation and goals.
There are many other small increases in funding throughout the Proposed Budget. The much-touted, much-loved Neighborhood Matching Fund will return to pre-recession levels, the budget mentions various government efficiency allocations, and it continues to fund greening efforts in government resources such as vehicles and fuel storage.
This evening at 6 p.m. at Garfield High School, the Seattle City Council will hold its second public hearing on the mayor’s 2014 Proposed Budget. There will be time for information and public comments. For those who cannot attend or have additional questions, Council Budget Committee Chair Tim Burgess has made his office available. City Council will submit its comments and changes to the budget at the end of November.