A $4.3 million investment in the city’s “rainy day fund” and spending measures to increase the number of police on patrol, maintain streets and expand services for domestic violence victims were among the initiatives that Mayor Mike McGinn highlighted in his proposed 2014 budget Monday.
McGinn presented his spending ideas during an annual budget address to the City Council, a speech that came at a moment when his re-election chances seem increasingly imperiled. A King 5 poll released last week showed that 52 percent of likely voters support his opponent Ed Murray, while only 30 percent support the mayor.
Councilman Tim Burgess, chair of the council's Budget Committee and a Murray supporter, greeted the proposed $4.4 billion budget with skepticism. “Mayor McGinn has proposed some significant increases in spending but has yet to provide evidence that those increases would be an effective use of taxpayer dollars,” Burgess said in a statement released minutes after the speech ended. The council typically greets mayoral budget proposals with, at best, modest enthusiasm but generally ends up adopting most of what has been proposed.
While announcements about many of the spending proposals had trickled out of the mayor’s office in recent days, it was the first time McGinn mentioned the rainy day fund. The proposed investment would increase the fund’s balance to $34.7 million, which, compared to past balances, would have the “largest dollar value ever,” according to the mayor’s office. In figures released on the mayor’s official website, the past fund balances were not adjusted for inflation, according to senior communications advisor Robert Cruickshank. The rainy day fund balance would, nevertheless, increase to an estimated 4.1 percent of tax revenue in 2014, the highest percentage since 2008, according to the mayor’s office.
“Frankly we’ve never been in a better budget position to deal with an emergency or an economic downturn,” McGinn said during his speech.
Burgess said the mayor should do even more to strengthen the fund, noting that the council and the mayor adopted a resolution in 2011 saying that the rainy day fund should be equal to 5 percent of tax revenues. “Some would even argue that the 5 percent is not adequate,” Burgess said, adding that some cities sock away up to 15 percent of their tax revenue in rainy day funds.
In the budget proposal, McGinn also proposes adding 15 additional police officers to the Seattle Police Department, bringing the total number of officers to 1,342. Eight of the officers would be assigned to Seattle neighborhoods and three would work with city park rangers, to patrol downtown parks.
The proposed budget also includes $4.8 million for new bicycle greenways along 23rd Avenue, $2.5 million for new sidewalks and a $1 million funding increase for neighborhood street maintenance. Another $7.1 million in revenue from school zone traffic camera citations would pay for pedestrian safety projects, like sidewalks and crosswalks, around schools. The budget also adds $850,000 to keep two winter homeless shelters open year round and $450,000 to the $5.4 million budget for domestic violence response.
Throughout his speech, McGinn referenced federal and state funding, for everything from social services to infrastructure, which has disappeared in recent years and at one point said Olympia was “holding local transit dollars hostage.” King County, Seattle and many other local cities' officials have urged the state Legislature to extend King County authority to pay for existing Metro Transit service levels.
The speech was inevitably scrutinized for political undertones in the midst of a mayoral race. A consultant with the Murray campaign accused the mayor of rearranging his priorities as the election heated-up. “He’s changing his tune,” the consultant, Sandeep Kaushik said. “He said we didn’t have a crime problem, now he’s putting more cops on the street. He eliminated the office of domestic violence and now he’s going to make new investments in domestic violence prevention.”
The mayor however, was optimistic about the city’s future, pointing to recent upticks in building permits and rising tax revenue. Toward the end of the speech, he said that the city would need to work together to confront challenges related to education performance gaps, income inequality and public safety. “And facing those challenges can be uncomfortable and difficult and sometimes controversial,” he said. “That’s how we solve our problems, by raising them and dealing with them with honesty and courage, not by sweeping them under the rug.”