Outgoing Seattle Councilmembers impose new problem for the new council to fix
November 30, 2023
One of the important items which might have missed your attention during Thanksgiving week was the outgoing Seattle City Councilmembers passing its supplemental $7.7 billion budget for 2024.
The two key takeaways from the last City of Seattle budget six of the nine councilmembers will pass are:
- The current budget does very little to ease the expected budget deficit of $221 million in 2025 and $207 in 2026.
- Despite high office vacancy rates and large amount of empty storefronts in Downtown Seattle, the current council continued its financial attacks on major employers by passing an increase of the city’s Payroll Expense Tax by 6.5%, which will further increase the cost of conducting business in Seattle.
Like the State of Washington, the City of Seattle operates on a two-year budget cycle. The council’s actions last week were meant to “fine tune” the biannual budget passed in November 2022.
Yet with major budget deficits looming in the coming years, the outgoing councilmembers evidently believed they had little or no responsibility to fix the financial problems their previous actions created. Instead of beginning the process of meaningful budget cuts, the councilmembers passed 120 amendments to the budget, most of which were to establish or increase taxpayer funding for their pet projects.
For example outgoing Councilmember Lisa Herbold (West Seattle) added an additional half million dollars for her pet project to “increase the reach of a gun-violence reduction program.”
The councilmembers weren’t completely oblivious to the future budget crisis, for they passed a job-killing 6.5% increase to its already controversial Payroll Expense Tax, which previously resulted in major employers moving thousands of jobs out of the city.
This increase will not only result in more businesses moving their jobs elsewhere, it will also make it far more difficult to find employers willing to move into all the empty spaces in Downtown Seattle’s office and retail core.
President and CEO of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce Rachel Smith issued a statement expressing her concerns over the impact of this latest tax increase on employers. “This proposal will increase taxes for 500 businesses, without considering any alternatives, at a time when we are desperately trying to spur downtown recovery and when we see headlines every day about vacant office space.”
President Smith went on to state that the council needs, “to focus on managing the city’s impending deficit by getting spending under control, prioritizing existing revenues to meet the city’s highest priorities – including public safety and drug use.”
In 2013 the city’s budget was $4 billion. Today it is $7.7 billion.
A 2022 Downtown Seattle Association report revealed that taxes collected by the city have increased by an incredible 94%. Yet during this time the city’s population only increased 22% and there was only a 19% increase in jobs. Thus, Seattle taxes are increasing four times greater than population growth and nearly five times greater than job creation.
And despite this massive increase in taxes and government spending, it is nearly impossible to find a reasonable person who will say the city is better today than it was a decade ago. Homelessness has dreadfully increased, drug usage and overdose deaths have tragically increased, violent crime is at record levels, retail theft is has forced many stores to close Seattle locations, housing is far more expensive as Seattle policies have reduced available rental units, the police department is dramatically understaffed, and congestion is increasing on Seattle streets.
It is clear that money is not the problem as all of these problems have significantly worsened at a time when the council doubled the taxes and the city budget. It is evident the problems are with policies and priorities.
In both the 2021 and 2023 elections Seattle voters supported candidates who stated they rejected the failed radical progressive policies of the past which resulted in the previously mentioned problems and a pending budget crisis at city hall.
The new council will be sworn in at the start of the year. Many will be closely watching the councilmembers to see if they keep their promises to the voters by seeking moderate solutions to the city’s problems.
Yet, outgoing Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda recently asserted her belief that new councilmembers should forget the promises they made to voters and instead cave into the radical special interest groups who benefit from higher taxes and bigger government. Mosqueda stated, “My hope is that once people get into office, the sort of positioning that people have had to take or maybe the rhetoric that they’ve heard throughout the race will subside and the reality and the gravity of the situation will take over.”Change Washington will continue to monitor the actions of Seattle’s elected officials to ensure they have learned from the mistakes made by recently defeated Councilmember Andrew Lewis: Flip-flopping on campaign promises is not a recipe for success on the Seattle City Council.