The Seattle City Council has been in a spending spiral for years. From 2012 to 2019, the General Fund budget (which funds basic city services such as police, fire, and human services) increased by 52%. City employees (not including utility and transportation workers) increased by 26%.
The council has a habit of spending any extra money that comes in. For example, in 2019, the city received a windfall of $100 million from a tax on sugary drinks. Instead of saving the money or using it to pay down debt, the council spent it on new programs and services.
And then COVID happened…
The pandemic only exacerbated the problem. In 2020, the city’s revenue declined by $200 million, but the council still increased spending by $50 million.
As a result of this reckless spending, the city is now facing a $221 million budget gap in 2025. Councilmember Alex Pedersen has suggested raising taxes to close the gap, but Councilmember Lisa Herbold has said that the problem is structural and cannot be solved with taxes alone.
The truth is, the city’s spending problem is entirely of its own making. The council has been spending more money than it takes in for years, and it is now reaping the consequences.
The only way to solve this problem is for the council to get its spending under control. This means making tough choices about which programs to cut and which taxes to raise. It also means being honest with the public about the city’s financial situation.
What can be done?
The Seattle City Council is facing a difficult challenge, but it is not insurmountable. By taking responsibility for its actions and making tough choices, the council can get its spending under control and create a more sustainable future for the city.
Here are some specific suggestions for how the council can address its spending problem in an optimistic way:
- Invest in innovative solutions that can help the city save money, such as energy efficiency and waste reduction.
- The council has already taken some positive steps, such as creating a new revenue stabilization workgroup to explore new ways to raise money.
- Partner with the private sector to provide essential services, such as transportation and childcare.
- Create a more transparent and accountable budget process that allows the public to participate in decision-making.
- There is a growing awareness of the need to address the city’s financial challenges, which can help to build momentum for change.
- Build a consensus around the city’s priorities and make sure that everyone is on board with the plan to get back on track.
- The city has a strong economy and a diverse population, which can be assets in addressing the spending problem.
The Seattle City Council has a long road ahead, but it is possible to turn things around. By working together, the council and the community can create a brighter future for the city.