Even before the economy cools, Seattle and Spokane raise concerns about public spending. Tax preemption initiative filed.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan says the city must begin to cut costs. Really. According to the Seattle Times,

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan is asking her departments to propose budget cuts of up to 5 percent for the future partly because the city has recently been spending more general-fund money than it has been taking in, her budget director said.

The mayor is also requesting the reductions — from what would otherwise be next year’s spending levels — because she may want to move some money to new and different programs after learning about her options, said Ben Noble, the budget director. And then there’s the political message Durkan was trying to send when she spoke about her plan last week.

“The immediate, near-term forecast for the general fund is one that poses some challenges,” Noble told the City Council’s finance committee after the mayor’s remarks.

She’s also looking into projected streetcar costs

And in Spokane, City Council President Ben Stuckart is calling for a salary cap on city employees, according to the Spokesman-Review.

No Spokane city employee could earn more than $182,000 annually under a package of changes to City Hall’s budgeting process being proposed by Council President Ben Stuckart.

“We’re not the private sector, we’re the public sector,” said Stuckart, who doesn’t expect a vote on the measure until next month at the earliest. “We’ve got to hold the line somewhere.”

Nothing is settled. The statements come at the beginning of budget processes that will extend for weeks. But they do signal a recognition that even spectacular revenue growth (at least in the case of Seattle and, for that matter, the state budget) cannot extend forever. And, there has been a pattern of making expenditure commitments that cannot be sustained easily when the economy returns to more normal growth rates. 

The Times story continues,

The budget director said he’s waiting on hard numbers from 2017 and on a revenue forecast due in early April. But he estimates the city’s general-fund expenditures exceeded its revenues by $15 million to $20 million this past year….

“The economy is doing well, but the revenue growth has plateaued … We need to address that ongoing deficit,” Noble said, also citing “pressures for adding services in different areas” as cause for the city to consider cuts.

Still, there’s a nearly insatiable appetite for new taxes and spending in the state’s largest metro, as a recent Crosscut article argues for yet another new tax.

Closing the housing gap is an infrastructure project on a grand scale, for good reason. For years we have treated the housing crisis as a force of nature beyond the boundaries of public responsibility. It’s time to catch up. The people of Seattle, especially our neighbors sleeping outside, deserve to see results. A $75 million Employee Hours Tax should be considered an absolute floor for a meaningful initial investment this spring. Another $75 million from other progressive revenue sources— such as a possible local estate tax or a tax on vacant properties, both mentioned by the task force for further study —  by the end of 2018 will add up to a respectable start.

We do not dispute the crisis of homelessness. Rather, we think the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce makes a good point

Before pursuing another new source of revenue, the City must take a hard look at where the $63 million already being spent on human services goes. Rather than trying to tackle this vexing problem alone, the City Council should support regional efforts for best-practice solutions that improve housing affordability and help more people in our region get into stable housing…

Seattle’s fiscal creativity has already launched one initiative.

The initiative aims to prevent local governments from passing their own taxes on groceries. It does not prevent the state from doing so. Excluded from the tax are alcoholic beverages, tobacco and marijuana products, which are currently regulated and taxed by the state.

Pete Lamb, senior business agent for Teamsters Local 174, told The Herald that such taxes hurt low-income and working class families most. “We think people are fed up with regressive taxation. We think citizens of Washington have clearly seen what’s taken place in Seattle and are not OK with this type of tax,” Lamb said.

It’s still early spring, with much fiscal debate ahead. Nonetheless, an appreciation of sustainability and fiscal responsibility is welcome.