By Erica C. Barnett
The City Council adopted a 2024 budget on Tuesday that provides pay increases for human services workers, funds a controversial gunfire-detection system, sets aside money for a new $225-a-shift bonus for cops who direct traffic at concerts and other events, and increases the JumpStart payroll tax to pay for mental health services in public schools. The police bonuses will have to be approved through separate legislation in December. The budget also restores funding for Truleo, an AI-based system that monitors officers’ body camera footage for inappropriate behavior; SPD abruptly stopped using the technology earlier this year.
In a statement to PubliCola, Seattle Chamber director Rachel Smith called the Jumpstart tax increase “another example of the City Council taking a ready-shoot-aim approach to public policy” and called the plan, which Sawant first put on the table earlier this month, a “tax with no plan and no process” that “will increase taxes for 500 businesses, without considering any alternatives—when we are desperately trying to spur downtown recovery and when we see headlines every day about vacant office space.”
The adopted budget also reverses an attempt by Mayor Bruce Harrell to use revenues from the JumpStart payroll tax, which is supposed to be earmarked primarily for affordable housing, to pay for unrelated programs. Every year the tax has been in effect, the mayor—first Durkan, now Harrell—has raided the tax to pay for basic city services that would ordinarily come out of the city’s general fund. This year, Harrell proposed using $27 million in JumpStart funding to pay for, among other things, the relocation of a tiny house village off Sound Transit property, mandatory pay increases for human service workers, and two new strategic advisors to evaluate the JumpStart program itself.
Also Tuesday, the council voted down a fast-tracked bill to amend the city’s comprehensive plan—the document that governs future growth and housing development across the city—to allow transportation impact fees on new apartments.
The budget does not include any increase in pre-arrest diversion programs, despite assurances from Councilmember Andrew Lewis and Mayor Bruce Harrell that the recently passed law empowering City Attorney Ann Davison to prosecute people who use drugs in public would come with ample funding for alternatives to arrests and jail. Lewis did add $200,000 for pre-filing diversion programs, but, as we have reported, these are “light-touch” programs that aren’t appropriate for unhoused people with severe addiction who are the primary targets of the new drug law.
Nor does the budget include specific funding for pay increases for thousands of city employees which remain unresolved after months of negotiations between Harrell’s office and the Coalition of City Unions, an umbrella organization for the unions that represent more than 6,000 city workers. Harrell initially proposed a 1 percent “cost of living adjustment,” which is significantly below the rate of inflation; a tentative contract with the firefighters’ union included wage increases between 2 and 4 percent, indicating the mayor’s current bargaining position for that (unrelated, but potentially telling) contract. Earlier this month, the Coalition held a series of rolling “practice pickets” across downtown Seattle.
Next year, three returning council members—Sara Nelson, Tammy Morales, and Dan Strauss—will be joined by six newcomers, including Mosqueda’s replacement, whom the council itself will choose next year. Before then, though, the current council still has a few decisions in front of it. In December, the council will decide in whether to pass a new progressive tax to help the city fill a projected 2025-2026 budget shortfall of around $500 million; options the council could pass in the short term include an increase in the JumpStart tax and a capital gains tax. They’ll also have to pass legislation approving the memorandum of understanding between the Seattle Police Officers Guild and the mayor’s office that will allow the $225 bonuses to start flowing into police officers’ pockets.
Also Tuesday, the council voted down a fast-tracked bill to amend the city’s comprehensive plan—the document that governs future growth and housing development across the city—to allow transportation impact fees on new housing. Such fees, which would increase the cost of new apartments, are based on the premise that housing density has a negative impact on cities; or, as the Seattle Times’ conservative editorial board argued, “growth” should pay for the negative costs of growth.
The five-vote majority was an unusual coalition: In addition to housing proponents Teresa Mosqueda and Dan Strauss, lefty Tammy Morales, centrist Sara Nelson, and frequent swing voter Andrew Lewis voted down the proposal.
Housing advocates who oppose impact fees, such as Habitat for Humanity and Seattle for Everyone, have pointed to studies showing that density is more efficient and affordable (not to mention environmentally friendly) than the suburban-style development pattern dominant across Seattle. People who live in apartments tend to use transit and walk, not drive, to get where they need to go. Additionally, making apartments more expensive in cities forces people who aren’t wealthy into sprawling, car-dependent suburbs while adding to the wealth of incumbent homeowners and those who can afford seven-figure houses in Seattle’s goldlined single-family neighborhoods.
The new council will have to decide next year if they want to resurrect Herbold and Pedersen’s legislation, which includes a potential fee schedule as well as a list of specific transportation projects the fees could fund.