Council Whittles Budget Wish List Under Shadow of Eyman’s Anti-Transportation Funding Measure

• A couple of proposals by Bruce Harrell to increase oversight of the Office of Labor Standards, which implements and enforces worker protections such as paid safe and sick leave, the domestic workers’ bill of rights, and the minimum wage, by the council and the Office of Economic Development, which promotes local business development. Last week, Harrell claimed that an unspecified number of unnamed small, minority-owned businesses were being “devastated” by OLS’ oversight of “good faith disputes” between business owners and employees that did not amount to “wage theft in the traditional sense.” This prompted Lorena Gonzalez to point out that labor laws are intended to protect workers, not divine the intent of bosses who break them. The balancing package strips out $50,000 for a survey (by OED) of businesses that have been investigated by OLS, and removes a requirement that OLS produce a report to the council documenting how it plans to “increase transparency and foster more efficient ways to mediate and resolve good faith disputes between parties.”

• A $1 million investment in a Downtown Seattle Association-run shuttle between Pioneer Square and Seattle Center that has been funded by the state Department of Transportation as part of Alaskan Way Viaduct mitigation. With the viaduct demolition wrapping up, WSDOT will no longer pay for the free service after this year. Abel Pacheco proposed this item, backed by budget chair Sally Bagshaw; opponents, including Gonzalez and Lisa Herbold, argued that the city should not use public dollars to fund a private transit service that is not required to  city labor standards and laws mandating that public transit has to serve everyone, including people experiencing homelessness.

• A proposal to spend $3 million in proceeds from the Sweetened Beverage Tax buying and relocating P-Patch gardens was scaled back to $500,000, and designated for gardens in Healthy Food Priority Areas—areas of the city whose residents have lower incomes, longer travel times to healthy food retailers, and more fast food outlets. This basically rules out the gardens in Ballard, Queen Anne, and Capitol Hill whose advocates have sought public funding to buy or relocate their gardens. Earlier this year, the council adopted legislation (and defended it against a mayoral veto) directing all excess revenues from the sweetened beverage tax toward new or expanded programs benefiting the low-income communities most heavily impacted by the tax.

The council proposes spending the remaining $2.5 million on a list of programs that includes water bottle filling stations at schools and community centers in areas with high percentages of low-income people and people of color; expanding the Fresh Bucks food voucher program; and evaluating how the city can connect people with child care and diapers.

A proposal by Debora Juarez to expand the Navigation Team by two members to be dedicated (unlike the rest of the team) specifically to North Seattle (and possibly, according to discussions about the item, specifically to Juarez’s District 5) was removed and replaced by a smaller amount of funding ($210,000) for “mental health outreach workers” focusing on North Seattle.

What’s under scrutiny: 

• Despite overwrought coverage of a doomed proposal by Kshama Sawant to completely defund the Navigation Team (which, predictably, received one vote of sponsorship—Sawant’s) the council did renew a proviso stipulating that the Navigation Team must provide data on its progress on specific council-designated metrics in order to receive continued funding. In the last year, the Navigation Team has shifted its focus away from removing encampments with advance notice and outreach toward removing encampments it considers “obstructions,” which do not require notice or outreach to residents.

• The council placed budget provisos—essentially, a hold on spending until the mayor or her department can answer certain questions to the council’s satisfaction—on most of Durkan’s so-called “high-barrier offender” program, which would expand probation and establish several still ill-defined criminal justice programs to address the kind of repeat misdemeanor offenders highlighted in ex-city attorney candidate Scott Lindsay’s two “System Failure” reports. (The first of those reports formed the basis for KOMO TV’s incendiary and misleading “Seattle Is Dying” viral propaganda video.)

ª Council members, chiefly public safety chair Lorena Gonzalez, have expressed skepticism that expanding probation and adding attorneys to the law department will address the underlying problems that cause a small number of people to reoffend. The first proviso on probation expresses the council’s intent to take $170,000 intended for the probation expansion and spend it on medication-assisted treatment; the second directs the Seattle Municipal Court (SMC) to partner with the city’s Criminal Justice Equity Team to do a racial equity analysis of the probation plan and examine whether it’s likely to lead to better outcomes for participants beyond whether they comply with court-imposed conditions.

 

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