At a time when Seattle pines for better transportation, more housing and secure, fairly handled public safety, Mayor Ed Murray unveiled his $5.1 billion budget proposal before an audience of cops, firefighters, diverse youth — and a wall of city suits. Murray’s wide-ranging budget speech, delivered to the Seattle City Council Monday, focused heavily on growth, equity and public safety.
In his financial plan for 2016, his commitment to body cameras, focus on services for the homeless and expansion of bike sharing are likely to be among the most talked about items.
Things like utilities and transportation eat up the vast majority of the city’s budget. The $1.1 billion general fund is technically more flexible than the utilities and transportation expenditures, but most of it is dedicated to renewing the large budgets of departments like police, fire, administrative and the library. Murray and the Seattle City Council, therefore, are left with relatively little wiggle room for their own adjustments.
As he did in his first budget speech last year, Murray emphasized that, despite a booming economy, the city is nevertheless greatly restricted in how much money it can spend. He pointed to state’s cap on property tax increases, a reduction in state revenue for transportation and a decline in federal support, especially for affordable housing. “The impact of these constraints are real and significant,” said Murray.
The budget did tick up by 4.5 percent from last year. Murray’s office said the increase was to keep up with Seattle’s growing population, but that increased tax revenue from the incredible amount of construction would cover the growth needs. As Seattle booms, a full 25 percent of sales tax revenue is related to construction. Murray did not propose any new streams of revenue like, for example, a tax on employers or commercial parking. Property, business, sales and utility taxes are the main funders of the city’s general fund.
Although containing the whole proposal in five boxes is impossible, here are a handful of points to take away from Murray's budget.
1. Murray, like every politician before him, wants government to work better.
After recognizing the efforts of the first responders to the Aurora Bridge ‘Ride the Ducks’ crash, Murray argued for a more efficient government. He included more funding for his new Office of Planning and Community Development, which will replace the Department of Planning and Development. He also pledged to fund a Chief Privacy Officer to vet privacy concerns within the City.