Seattle sees revenues drop. City Council makes budget cuts, loses police chief.

The Washington Research Council reports the latest revenue forecast for City of Seattle confirms the toll taken by the pandemic. 

the Seattle City Budget Office (CBO) released an updated revenue forecast for the city. General fund revenues for 2020 are now expected to be $1.194 billion—15.0 percent below the level of revenues assumed in the adopted 2020 budget ($1.404 billion) and 2.1 percent below the June forecast. General fund revenues for 2021 are now estimated to be $1.254 billion (10.7 percent below the adopted 2020 budget).

Ben Noble, the director of the CBO writes, “recovery to pre-virus levels cannot be reasonably anticipated until 2023 and 2024.”

WRC analyst Emily Makings points out that Mayor Durkan vetoed the City Council’s bill to use emergency reserves to sustain new spending. Her veto may be overridden tomorrow.

The one area the City Council seems serious about targeting for budget reductions is the city’s police department. But they seem to struggle there, too. The Seattle Times reports,

The City Council took votes Monday to rebalance Seattle’s battered 2020 budget and start reducing the size and scope of the Police Department. It also promised to make more dramatic changes to public safety services next year.

Budget amendments passed by the council are intended to shrink the force by up to 100 officers through layoffs and attrition this year; dismantle a team that removes some homeless encampments; and cut the wages of Police Department command staff between September and December, among other actions.

As the ST reports, the council’s cuts to the Police Department budget have less to do with declining revenues than with the council’s political orientation.

Mayor Jenny Durkan and Best opposed some of Monday’s moves, asking the council to hold off on changes they said would be hard to carry out quickly. The Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG) campaigned against layoffs, collecting petition signatures from people across the country and rallying Sunday.

But Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda described Monday’s amendments as first stepstoward achieving the demands by many Black Lives Matter protesters that Seattle defund the Police Department by 50% to invest in community programs. Since May, large crowds have repeatedly taken to the streets and advocates have put pressure on the council to rethink public safety.

After Monday’s vote, Police Chief Carmen Best announced her resignation.

Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best will step down, she has announced, in the wake of protests against police brutality, criticism over the Police Department’s response and votes by the City Council to shrink the police force and cut her wages.

Crosscut also reports on the budget actions.

The measures that passed Monday represent the collision of two unprecedented moments in Seattle history: the economic devastation wrought by the coronavirus and the protests calling for radical change to public safety. 

The council and the mayor face a roughly $400 million shortfall in this year’s budget, a hole so deep that City Hall was forced to revisit its 2020 budget. On Monday, the city’s budget office released new 2020 projections that were $26 million worse than previous, already dismal forecasts. 

While some of the pain will be eased through rainy day, emergency and state and federal funding, the city also will slash dollars this year from projects in transportation, parks and elsewhere, with more cuts certain to come next year.  

The council also recently passed a new tax on large businesses, which it hopes will buoy the city’s finances in coming years, although Mayor Jenny Durkan has been skeptical. 

More skepticism is warranted. What with the protests, the pandemic, and the punitive tax on successful business, it’s been a rough several months for the city.