Although Mayor Jenny Durkan’s conciliatory statements toward the city council about their amended 2021 budget—which, you’ll recall, reduces her plan to set aside $100 million for future spending “for BIPOC communities” by 70 percent —mark an improvement from last summer’s low-water mark in mayor-council relations, two under-the-radar budget details may reveal a more lasting lack of trust between the branches.
Every year, the city council issues a number of budget provisos—restrictions on spending that require executive departments to meet certain conditions before the legislative branch will release funding for a program. For example, since 2019, the council has required the Human Services Department to release a report on various aspects of the Navigation Team’s work as a condition of releasing the team’s funds each quarter.
The number of provisos the council imposes, and the amount of funding restricted by those provisos, tends to vary from year to year, and the departments that are subject to provisos change over time depending on the areas of conflict between a particular mayor and a particular council. In 2015, under then-mayor Ed Murray, the council adopted 15 provisos, which restricted a little more than $16 million in spending in the 2016 budget.
This year, the council’s proposed budget includes 42 provisos that restrict an extraordinary, and almost certainly unprecedented, $117 million.
The bulk of those restrictions had to do with Seattle Department of Transportation; at the time, Murray was under fire for failing to dedicate enough money to bike lanes and other non-car-related infrastructure.Three years later, when Durkan was finishing her first year as mayor, the council imposed 17 provisos on about $10 million worth of spending. A review of a half-dozen city budgets going back to the Mike McGinn administration (2013: 19 provisos covering about $6 million) reveals that most years, the council’s limits on spending fall somewhere around this general range.
This year, in contrast, the council’s proposed budget includes 42 provisos that restrict an extraordinary, and almost certainly unprecedented, $117 million. The provisos place conditions on everything from the $30 million that remains in Durkan’s Equitable Communities Fund to more than $30 million that the council plans to spend on participatory budgeting. One proviso, citing typical hiring rates by the Seattle Police Department, holds back $5 million from the police budget unless the chief can prove it’s necessary. on salaries without council approval; another four dictate the geographical distribution of a few hundred thousand dollars for homeless outreach.
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In theory, placing a proviso on a spending item doesn’t necessarily mean that the council believes the mayor will ignore their adopted budget; provisos can simply indicate the council’s desire to stay involved in policy decisions made by departments, or to keep tabs on the city’s investments before sending more money out the door. They can also express a general frustration with the mayor for not providing information the council has requested. For example, in 2018, then-council member Mike O’Brien proposed, and the council adopted, a proviso restricting funds for the South Lake Union and First Hill streetcars until the mayor coughed up an overdue report on the streetcars’ performance.
This year’s outsize funding restrictions could also be a product of the city’s still-nascent efforts to divert funding from the Seattle Police Department and into community-based organizations that promote public safety; since the city still doesn’t know what the participatory budgeting process will recommend, for example, it may make sense to restrict that funding until the process is complete.
However, some council members have made no secret of the fact that they don’t trust Durkan to spend the money they allocate in the budget as directed. When the council was first trying to dismantle the Navigation Team last summer, for example, they used a budget proviso to remove police officers from the team—citing, among other things, the fact that Durkan had recently used $1.4 million intended for non-congregate shelter on rental assistance; failed to spend money the council allocated for mobile showers; and refused to approve an expansion of the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program. Continue reading “The C Is for Crank: Buried in the Budget, Signs of Ongoing Council-Mayor Mistrust”