John V. Fox and Carolee Colter:
Last week, Mayor Mike McGinn presented his first budget to the Seattle City Council. These are tough economic times, and the mayor needed to make up for a $67 million drop in local tax revenues that normally would have supported programs covered by the general fund, plus significant shortfalls in non-general-fund sources such as user fees, utility rates, state and federal revenue sources.
The mayor addressed these challenges by proposing a general-fund budget $13 million less than last year. Only police and fire departments avoided deep cuts in city services and staffing. We’ll also face steep rate increases for water, solid waste, electricity and parking. (Hats off to the mayor, though, for minimizing cuts to human services)
But here are some things especially troubling to us. For starters, the parks department really took it in the shorts. On top of a 5-percent reduction to its maintenance budget earlier this year, the mayor called for another $8.1 million in cuts for 2011, which means layoffs of more than 100 employees and accompanying drastic reductions in park programs and increased user fees.
Our city is in the ironic position of adding parks, playfields and open space due to passage of the 2008 Parks and Open Space levy while lacking funds for basic maintenance. The mayor’s cuts worsen this situation and give fodder to special interests seeking to privatize our parks system (e.g., leasing parks space and buildings to trinket and food vendors, profit-producing weekend concerts or Dale Chihuly’s glorified ashtray displays).
More for Paul Allen
While the mayor argues that his proposed utility-rate increases are necessary to fund the basics, that claim is undermined by a host of new and ongoing programs that siphon off millions — all to accommodate private redevelopment in one neighborhood.
In South Lake Union, his budget includes a new “bioswale” drainage system, “networking” and undergrounding the wiring, expanding the Broad Street electrical substation and monies for a new “North Downtown Substation.” Through 2016, these costs exceed $300 million. There never seems to be a shortage of dollars for Paul Allen.
The mayor also committed millions next year and in future years to complete Mercer Phase II (Mercer West), a project now estimated at $100 million, in addition to the $200 million already committed for Phase I (Mercer East). As we’ve reported before, this is nothing more than a redevelopment scheme designed to redirect traffic away from Paul Allen’s properties facing Lake Union and does nothing to reduce traffic congestion. MORE...