Urban Politics #267: The New City Budget

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With the new 2009-10 biennial budget the Council has woven a very broad tapestry of legislation. A good deal of the credit goes to the four councilmembers, including the leadership of Budget Chair Jean Godden and Council President Richard Conlin, who negotiated with the deputy mayor to bring forward a budget package.

A number of my priority issues received funding. I was able add $300,000 in 2009 and in 2010 to  the Seattle Public Library’s collection fund, which in particular can add computers to the library so that those seeking work and who afford their own internet service will have the ability to send their resumes over the internet.

I was also able to partially restore Policy Advocacy Programs, which primarily benefit low-income families, seniors and people with disabilities, by leveraging other funds to help Seattle’s disadvantaged.

I was  very pleased that the Council agreed with my proposal to restore a total of $950,000 in funding for three programs initiated by the Council in 2006, under my leadership as then chair of the Public Safety Committee, that provide treatment, housing and other services to help reduce recidivism in the criminal justice system:

  • Communities Uniting Rainier Beach (CURB); CURB is a peer outreach, service intervention, and case management program for young adults in Rainier Beach who are involved in low-level criminal activity.
  • Get Off the Streets (GOTS) GOTS is a peer outreach, service intervention, and case management program for adults in the Central Area who are continually involved in the criminal justice system.
  • Court Specialized Treatment and Access to Recovery Services (Co-STAR) Co-STAR provides treatment, housing and other services to reduce jail recidivism.

However, the funding is only good for 2009; they will need to secure city funding in 2010 after an evaluation has been conducted on their effectiveness.

Unfortunately other worthy efforts did not receive funding. I sought additional funding for SHARE/WHEEL, and the Cascade People’s Center, but was not able to secure support of a Council majority.

We need to examine whether we need a new $110 million jail in Seattle or the county. I brought forward a motion to add public defenders and those from the legal and neighborhood communities as ongoing advisors to the City’s decision making process. The motion passed by a 5-4 vote. (Licata, Godden, Clark, Rasmussen & McIver)

The biennial budget also included $2.5 million in new money for homeless services including increased funding for eviction prevention, the First Methodist Church shelter, and 70 new shelter beds for individuals relocated from encampments, and capital funding for an additional 32 housing units for the homeless. The final package also included $975,000 in new money for increased Food Stamp outreach and recruitment, food bank bulk food purchases, and home grocery deliveries for the elderly, disabled, and chronically ill.

The Council added $2 million for design and implementation of the Linden Street Improvement project to increase safety, along with traffic calming measures in neighborhoods.

In this broad tapestry however there is flaw, and while not fatal enough to throw out the whole thing, it does stand out as an unfortunate departure from the Council’s attentive and thoughtful work on the budget.

I am referring to the $30 million that the Mayor can spend on the Mercer Project without any further Council approval. The Council has asked SDOT to share some information about how the financing is going in January, but this will be a formality; they are not restricted by the Council in spending the $30 million.

A Federal stimulus package will hopefully be available some time next year, but we will certainly not know when the Mayor briefs the Council, since President Elect Obama will not even be in office at the time.

I hope that this project is not funded, because it will be a waste of transportation dollars and also with the resultant congestion and increased idling there will be more emissions polluting our environment.

If the Democrats in Congress end up funding projects like this they could lose the support of middle class taxpayers and hence they could lose Congress. It has happened before; keep in mind the first mid-term elections under President Bill Clinton.  In an 11/18/08 New York Times article, called “Piling Up Monuments of Waste,” a member of the Bush Administration cabinet, set the stage for exactly this possible future outcome.  “The United States is one of the few countries in the world to make the majority of its transportation investments without first conducting any kind of economic analysis to determine whether those investments will have any practical benefits for commuters or shippers.” (Mary Peters, Secretary  of Transportation)

I hope Seattle does receive money from a Federal stimulus package and I pray that we put it to good use. We need money for projects that work; that serve public transit, freight mobility, pedestrian safety and so forth. But the Mercer Project is not one of them.

SDOT’s own studies reveal that after spending more than $200 million the Mercer Corridor will be an even greater mess. That’s why over twenty community and business groups have come out against this project. I believe that there are public officials outside the city who will hear their voices even if those inside do not.

As we move forward in 2009 the Council must guard the public pocket book as we enter a recession. Every dollar spent takes away the opportunity to help someone else. We must ask ourselves: “Who are we helping?” Are they the neediest or are they providing the most important, basic services to the public?”

That is the task before the Council and I believe it can meet that challenge.


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