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Mayor Jenny A. Durkan’s 2019-2020 Biennium Budget

Mayor Jenny Durkan’s 2019-2020 biennium budget takes a hard look at the City of Seattle’s current spending and projected revenues and envisions a strong future where our government makes important investments in our region’s most pressing challenges, while also focusing on funding essential services and creating a more just and equitable future for all of Seattle’s residents. As our City enters a new era of budget realities, Mayor Durkan’s budget re-prioritizes to invest in the programs that are working for the largest number of people.

Watch the Speech

Fact Sheets

Budget Overview

Commitment to Public Safety

Addressing our Homelessness and Housing Crisis

Investing in Transit and Seattle’s Transportation System

Building a More Equitable, Inclusive Seattle

Investing in the City of the Future


Stories From Our Community

The 13th Year Scholarship Changed My Life, by Pedro Reynaga

How ORCA Opportunity Makes My Life Easier, by Xavier Albertson


Explore Mayor Durkan’s 2019-2020 Proposed Budget


2019-202 Biennium Budget Speech

As delivered:

Now we know why he’s such a great chief; he did a great introduction and justified his budget!

Council President Harrell, members of the City Council, community leaders, members of my cabinet, the men and women of Seattle Fire Station 10, and all my fellow Seattleites.

Good afternoon.

It is an honor to be with you today as I present my first budget as mayor of Seattle.

I know the Mayor is usually at City Hall to deliver her budget speech.

And yes: After 100 years, that’s what I said, “Her budget speech.”

But we all know the only way to really know what is going on in Seattle is to get out of City Hall.

That’s what I’ve been doing for the last nine months.

I’ve had the great opportunity to listen to people from all over this fantastic City.

From community meetings in West Seattle, Ballard, and the Central District….

To roundtables with young people in South Park, Rainier Beach, and Lake City.

To touring small businesses in Hillman City, Georgetown and Capitol Hill.

Since taking office, I have listened to people at 40 roundtables and town halls, 150 community events, and 9 neighborhood walking tours.

And then there’s the daily conversations at the grocery store, the coffee shop, or the sidelines of the school games.

Today, we are at Seattle Fire Department’s Station 10 – or “Tens,” as they call it. Here, we can see first-hand the hard work our City firefighters do for our City everyday. Shortly after I took office, I got to tour Tens, talk to the crew, and hear about their work for us. As the chief said, this station is one of the busiest fire stations in not just our entire city – but in the country.

And even when the mayor shows up with a speech and a podium and with her peeps, the men and women of the Seattle Fire Department always keep working.

So if you hear an alarm bell while I am speaking, I’ve got bad news:  That doesn’t mean I’m done.

It means the real work of our fire department is continuing regardless.

Today, I am here to present a budget that invests in that work – and the future of our city.

When I ran for mayor and when I took office, I made a promise to Seattle:

That I would act with urgency to address our shared challenges.

That I would work really hard to make sure we always provide the greatest public benefit possible from our work, from our resources, and in how we spend the taxpayer dollars.

And that my priorities would be:

To focus on the basics, like public safety and transportation and water – the essentials that our communities, our neighborhoods, and our businesses rely on every day.

To address our crisis of affordability, housing, and homelessness.

To stand up for what’s right – and for inclusion and equity and for our most vulnerable neighbors.

And finally, to invest in building that city of the future – one that is more innovative and vibrant that welcomes everyone to the City of Seattle.

Those values have guided us for 9 months, and this budget invests in those promises and commitments and does it while living within our means.

Already, in the past nine months, working together, we’ve delivered on a lot of these priorities – and I’m not slowing down.

I am still the impatient mayor!

I inherited a city government that had enormous strengths.

But it also had some tough problems, years in the making.

We got to work – challenge by challenge.

We had no magic wand, and we know it will take many years to fix some of these problems.

But together, we have to show results.

And we have.

One example!

When I took office, Seattle City Light had a backlog of more than 74,000 customer requests.


We cleared the backlog in 120 days.

And we’re trying to do that same thing, department by department and program by program.

Whether it is City Light billing or online construction permitting problems, we own our problems and are working to fix them.

I want our city government to be a government that listens.

And some of the strongest voices that we’ve listened to are our young people who deserve to be safe in their schools and communities.

So together we invested in youth violence prevention and enacted  new gun safety laws to help keep guns out of the wrong hands.

In fact, our Seattle Police officers this year have already removed 1,000 guns off our streets. Think of that, 1000 guns.

Our officers who worked to protect us have been working without a contract and a pay raise since 2014.

We all know how much more expensive Seattle has gotten since 2014.

No worker – and especially those who protect us – should go without a pay raise for that long.

That’s why Chief Best and I worked so hard to negotiate a fair contract for our officers that keeps our residents, neighborhoods and businesses safe.

That contract makes clear that we will NOT go backwards on police reforms.

Under the leadership of Chief Best, we will continue to build the best community-based police Department in the entire country.

In the upcoming weeks, I am very hopeful that City Council will approve that contract.

We’ve also worked to make Seattle a more affordable city.

After years of activism from our young people – including the incredible students of Rainier Beach High School – we quit talking and we actually delivered on the promise of free ORCA for high school students.

Beginning this month, 15,000 – 15,000! – Seattle public high school students received free passes through my ORCA Opportunity program.

That’s 15,000 future Seattle workers, inventors, and leaders who now have a passport to their city.

Because we finally acted, Seattle is now the largest city in the country to offer free transit to its high school students.

I thank you for your work on that.

The largest city in our country making transit work for young people.

For our youngest learners, we expanded the Seattle Preschool Program to serve 500 more kids. 500 more children giving them and their family opportunity.

On my first day in office, we also created the Seattle Promise College Tuition Program.

Because of our actions, nearly 250 students are starting tuition-free college today at the Seattle Colleges.

To help small business owners thrive, we launched the City’s first ever Small Business Advisory Council.

It’s been instrumental in helping to shape our programs, and in ensuring their voice is heard BEFORE we enact the policies and legislation that directly impact them.

Working with labor leaders, workers, and employers, together we passed and signed into law a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.

Now, those domestic workers now have the protections that they deserve.

On housing, we invested over $100 million and leveraged an additional $200 million to build and preserve affordable homes in our city.

It was the largest one-year investment in affordable housing in the history of Seattle.

We know it’s not enough.

Until we have enough housing, we must help our neighbors experiencing homelessness move into safer places.

To do that, we increased our shelter and bridge housing capacity by 25 percent.

And we are on track to create 500 new safer places in the City of Seattle.

In the first six months of this year, we’ve already helped 4,500 families and individuals move out of homelessness or stay in their housing.

By comparison: In ALL of last year, only 5,500 individuals and families were able to exit homelessness into permanent housing, or maintained their housing.

As a result, more people have access to the services they need and 35 percent, yes, 35 percent more people are moving from homelessness into housing.

And that in part is due to all of your efforts so thanks so much for that.

We’ve also stood up for what’s right and stood up for justice and for equity, like acting to stop the war on drugs and right those wrongs.

This spring, City Attorney Pete Holmes and I moved to vacate convictions and arrests for misdemeanor marijuana possession. The Court announced today that it will vacate these convictions.

To help protect our immigrant and refugee neighbors, we told the other, the lesser Washington, that they do not get to run our cities, and we took actions to protect our neighbors. And we told the federal government that they do not get to turn our local law enforcement into immigration cops.

And to build a more vibrant future, we took new, bold actions to ensure Seattle continues to be a leader on climate change and clean energy jobs.

And we have signed an agreement to spark the rebirth of Seattle Center as a vibrant economic, arts, and cultural engine for decades to come, including a new, modern arena.

We are on track to bring NHL hockey to the Seattle Center. And soon. We will have a brand new arena for the fourth championship flag of the Seattle Storm. And yes, we are on track to bring back our Sonics. I look forward to celebrating Council’s approval of that arena agreement later today.

So, it’s been a busy nine months.

It’s Seattle: We had a lot of coffee, and we got a lot done.

That progress was only made in partnership with my cabinet who is here today, and the City Council, and I thank you for your work.

I also want to take a moment to acknowledge the people who do a lot of good every day for our communities and neighborhoods:

The nearly 12,000 people who work and serve at the City of Seattle.

They are the ones who do the hard work every day of turning our City’s budget into better lives and a better city.

And I want to tell you a story about two of them – and a black lab named Samson.

Beth Schmoyer and Mike Jeffers serve at Seattle Public Utilities.

Their job: Help find pollutants – including in the Duwamish River.

They work to find pollutants that can poison our communities.

Beth and Mike had an idea: Could we train a dog to sniff out those pollutants?

Well, that innovative thinking led to a new member of the City family:

A very good boy named Samson, the black lab.

Samson spends most of his working days sniffing for PCBs along the Duwamish.  And it’s working.

We’re cleaning up the Duwamish – a place that for far too long has been most affected by the combined impacts of environmental inequities, climate change, and systemic racism.

Samson’s here today, thank you for your work Samson!

I hope you’ll join me in thanking them for all they do as we continue to invest in our Duwamish Valley communities.

In Seattle, we don’t wait for others to tell us what our future is going to look like.

We don’t follow the lead of the other, lesser Washington.

We don’t wait for a better future to come to us.

We invent it. We create it. And we act.

My budget helps build that better future.  It reflects these same priorities and values, and the same commitment to urgent action.

It focuses on delivering the basics. On addressing our affordability crisis. On standing up for what’s right and protecting the most vulnerable. And to seize those opportunities for a more vibrant future.

But my budget is also rooted in a difficult reality:

After years of significant growth, City spending and revenue is reaching a plateau. So we have to live within our means.

Is our economy still strong?

You bet it is – with all the opportunity and challenges that a strong economy brings. But as we project City revenue out into the future, there are clouds on the horizon.

We are entering a new era of budget realities – and my plan recognizes that we must reprioritize our budget to continue to invest in the things that matter most. Because our resources are limited; every dollar that we spend on a program or project is a dollar we cannot spend anywhere else. By findings efficiencies and working better and smarter, we were able to focus more on our priorities.

And doing that wasn’t easy. It took a lot of hard questions of each of our departments – and every department stood up. It took asking where could we find more efficient ways to spend taxpayer money. It took looking at our current workforce, and whether all job positions that have been vacant for months, or sometimes over a year, are really essential. If they weren’t – we eliminated some of those positions. And that flexibility allowed us to hire additional positions – like two dozen more employees at the Customer Call Center for Seattle City Light and Seattle Public Utilities, to help you spend more time with your family and less time on hold.

It also took looking at how the City approaches hiring and paying outside contractors. We cut there, too. And by making these cuts at departments like SDOT, we could directly invest into biking and pedestrian projects. It took looking at details that might seem in the weeds, like: How much we are spending on fuel for our City fleet?

Spoiler alert: we found that we are spending way too much – so we cut it.

And it was way past time to assess: Do we really need all those cars? No, we don’t – and I will be signing an Executive Order to reduce our City’s vehicle fleet. And for the cars we do need: we will move as quickly as we can to electric vehicles.

Because we asked all those hard questions and so many more, we found significant savings. A lot, actually. Working together with each of my departments we found about 50 million dollars that we could reprogram to those priorities. And this budget reinvests those dollars to make people’s lives better.

When I took office, we had a lot of hard problems to tackle quickly. I had – and will always have – a responsibility to ask hard questions, to be honest about what is working, and what needs work.

I want to be clear:  Asking hard questions does not – does not – mean I oppose a given program or spending. It means Seattle has a right to know the truth about its choices, and how its money is being spent. So thank you council for your work on that front.

As we crafted this budget, we knew that we can’t take on all our challenges with a City budget alone. Because from homelessness to housing to transportation to education, our challenges are not just regional – they are at the state level. And the solutions need to be, too.

As a City, we’ll continue to do our part. But my budget focuses on investments in those four key priority areas: Delivering essential services – the basics; addressing our affordability, housing, and homelessness crisis; three, standing up for what’s right and protecting the most vulnerable; Aand four, investing in the future of Seattle.

Even as we face new budget realities, my budget recognizes we need to deliver on essential community and neighborhood services, to meet the growing demands of a growing city, to do things that people expect and deserve from their government.

That’s the first focus of my budget. And it includes fire and police services that keep everyone safe.

Yes, Chief, my budget will provide 120 total new recruits for the Seattle Fire Department over the next two years. Chief Scoggins and I did that together by finding some efficiencies in the Department itself. That first class of new recruits will become firefighters in June 2019 – and hopefully some of them will work right here at Station 10.

This budget pays for that new contract and a raise for our officers with the Seattle Police Department. For four years they’ve been without a contract and it’s time to stop that. Already this year, SPD has responded to more than 500,000 calls. But they need more support. My budget adds money to hire 40 new Seattle Police Department patrol officers over the next two years.

Chief Best couldn’t be here today, but when we spoke this morning she wanted everyone to know that she is refocusing the department’s efforts on community-based policing and this budget supports those efforts, including relaunching our Community Service Officer Program with 12 new CSO Officers and supervisors.

And I thank the City Council for being stalwart supporters of that program and making sure we have these resources for our City.

To help address the demands of our growth, this budget also accelerates the things that makes our City more livable.

For the Department of Transportation, we combed the budget and identified another $15 million we can use to increase and accelerate projects – especially pedestrian and bike improvements.

Like repairing sidewalks, building curb ramps, repairing trails and bike paths, and installing lighting. That’s on top of what we were already going to do through the move Seattle levy. We’ll invest $50 million dollars to maintain our roads, including paving for our key transit corridors. We’ll also have $42 million dollars to maintain our bridges.

This budget will help make sure Seattle residents can have access to more quality green spaces and parks. It helps build a new park in North Rainier Urban Village. It renovates the Bitter Lake play area. It replaces the turf in Queen Anne Bowl and Georgetown Playfield. And it adds new programming at South Park Community Center.

There are more, you’ll have to look at the details, but these are the kind of investments that make Seattle more livable – and more equitable.

After addressing the basics like power and water and public safety and parks, the second but equal focus of the budget is addressing one of the great moral challenges of our time:

The crisis of affordability, housing, and homelessness.

To make Seattle more affordable, my budget continues to deliver on the promise of free ORCA for Seattle’s young people. Earlier this month, 15,000 Seattle Public School high school students received their ORCA pass.

Previously, these passes were available to a few thousand students in Seattle. But we know affordable, good transit can make a difference in the trajectory of a young person’s life.

Young people like A.J. Oguara who I recently talked to at a Lake City round table.

A.J. was a student at Middle College High School’s Northgate campus. Being raised by a single mom, and they only had one car – so getting around our city was tough.

But with his ORCA pass, in the first phase of the program, he had more options – including participating in the Lake City Young Leaders Program, a Seattle Parks and Recreation program.  As part of his experience, he volunteered at a food bank, delivered meals for kids who needed them, helped clean up streets in Lake City, and got to learn from small business owners. And just last weekend he told me the Mayor how we can make the city better. A.J., thanks for all you’re doing.

Future mayor, guaranteed!

For him and so many other students, free ORCA really is a passport to opportunity in Seattle.

It’s why we expanded the program to more high school students – and that’s why this budget continues it. As we sustain the promise of free ORCA, this budget also invests in strategies to help keep families from getting priced out and pushed out of Seattle. That’s why we will continue to invest in new affordable housing and invest in the Equitable Development Initiative next year. Already, the Equitable Development Initiative has helped organizations make their communities healthier, stronger places, with more access to opportunity.

It is community-based, supporting the Filipino Community of Seattle as they continue their vibrant commitment to Seattle, and build senior housing. Or Africatown, as they reclaim a historic part of our city and build affordable commercial space. And the Chief Seattle Club as they build affordable housing and healthcare services for our Native American brothers and sisters.

This budget also invests in effective and innovative responses to our homelessness crisis – and we do it without raising new taxes on residents and businesses of this city.

Coming into office, I made significant new investments to address the crisis including increasing our shelter capacity by 25%. This budget continues those commitments while both supporting and building accountability for our service provider contracts. Are we making progress in responding to our homelessness crisis? Yes – but not nearly as much as we would like.

Because our affordability crisis continues, and more people are experiencing housing instability and falling into homelessness. Their needs are outpacing the City’s capacity to prevent homelessness, to deliver emergency response services, and to provide affordable housing. The men and women who work here in Station 10 know that all too well. As the chief noted, they make so many responses related to people experiencing homelessness.

They aren’t the only ones.

Our Navigation Team does some of the hardest work in our City to reach out to the most vulnerable living in unimaginable conditions. Just this year, they have made over 8,000 contacts trying to get people to safer places. But the Navigation Team needs help.

This budget will support the new expansion of the Navigation Team and their work to move people off the streets, out of cars, and into safer places.

It also expands homelessness outreach services in Chinatown-International District, on Capitol Hill, and on First Hill. Where we know more work can be done to help our neighbors.

It supports our new Rental Housing Assistance Pilot and continues our commitment to prevent people from falling into homelessness in the first place. It also continues cleaning up our city’s trash, garbage and needles.

And we are continuing to invest and build more affordable housing. Seattle will have 2,500 new City-funded affordable rental homes online by 2021, and more will come in the years to follow.

But we know even that is not enough, Seattle cannot go it alone. It is not just a Seattle crisis. It is a regional, state and national crisis. We need regional coordination, state solutions and more federal resources. This begins with one consolidated system here in King County that has governance, authority, and resources to address our homelessness and housing crisis.

I’ve met and talked with and talked with our delegation and Governor, and they have assured me they will make funding for mental health treatment, drug treatment, and alternatives to incarceration a top priority next legislative session, and that will make a difference for all of us here in Seattle

We need them, we need the state, King County, and others in our region to step up.

Our budget also invests in protecting our most vulnerable neighbors.

We will continue supporting the Immigrant Legal Defense Network and provide critical legal services to our immigrant neighbors.

In this increasingly expensive Seattle, building economic opportunity also means we must protect our workers through fair wages and fair rights by working with employers, and through broad education and effective enforcement.

To do this, my budget makes the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights a reality, and provides our Office of Labor Standards new resources and new people. Thank you again, Council, for your work on this.

This budget also affirms the City’s commitment to the Race and Social Justice Initiative. It invests $1 million in RSJI through the Office for Civil Rights, and again provides more people and support for those programs.

My budget also provides support to our own City employees to combat harassment and discrimination, and make clear what our workplace expectations are for everyone. As I announced on Friday, we are going to create an Office of the Employee Ombud – an independent voice whose sole job will be to give City employees an impartial place to bring their concerns and their complaints. This is long overdue, and will make a difference for our workers.

Within our City government and across Seattle, we will never stop standing up for what’s right.

Finally, this is a budget that invests in building a more vibrant city of the future. A city where inside and outside of government, we keep innovating.

Where we seize opportunities.

Like investing in getting people out of their cars and onto transit.

That’s what a city of the future looks like.

So this budget invests nearly $130 million dollars more than last year in transit and transportation. And as we get ready for public and private megaprojects – like the Viaduct closure, the new 99 tunnel opening, the buses coming out of the transit tunnel – carmageddon – we are facing a new era of tough traffic. It’s coming, it is going to be worse than bad, and we need to be as ready as possible for this unprecedented period. So these investments in transit and transportation are even more important.

Look, I know that our buses are already full. Under this plan, we will ask King County Metro for 30 percent more bus service here in Seattle over the next two years. We’ll add new transit lanes. New bikes lanes. $4 million towards new first- and last-mile connections – so people have more ways to get to the main transit hubs, like light rail stations and water taxis.


And because we are committed to bringing more light rail to Seattle as quickly as possible, we invest $2.5 million to support our partnership with Sound Transit. And this will include a new light rail station at Graham Street.

This budget invests to deliver that Waterfront for All, to connect our city with its heart – the waters of the Puget Sound.

It is going to be magnificent; imagine the viaduct gone and that grassy knoll through Belltown. It will change our City forever. We’re finalizing the design and we are excited to move forward.

A city of the future is also one where we know we that the more broadly our prosperity is shared, the stronger we are.

It’s a city where we recognize and use the brilliance of our young people to shape our economy, not overlook them. Where we create the jobs of the future, and fill them with home-grown talent. Where we learn how to harness the best of technology to improve the life of workers – not replace workers.

That’s why on the ballot this November is my Families, Education, Preschool, and Promise plan to help close the opportunity gap.

And that’s why, in 2019, creating real career paths for our City’s young people through more registered apprenticeship programs, internships, and summer jobs and other pathways to opportunity will be a priority of my administration. This budget is a down payment on that work, that city of the future, for our youth.

In short, my budget:

Focuses on essential services like public safety and sidewalks and clean drinking water.

Addresses our affordability, housing, and homelessness crisis.

Stands up for what’s right and protecting the most vulnerable.

And invests to build a city of the future.

That’s my plan. That’s my budget.

We’re here because we know that, while it isn’t always glamorous, the budget process is our way we make life better for Seattle.

I understand that, right now, people don’t always trust their government.

We must work to regain that trust.  To deliver on promises. To show goodwill. To be kind.

We cannot follow the path of a president who works every day to undermine people’s trust in our institutions.

Does our City government have its flaws, and do we sometimes get it wrong? Of course. We are a human endeavor.

But government is also a vehicle for good. Every single day in Seattle, we are doing good. This budget, I believe, is a vehicle for good.

It will keep opening doors for people like Pedro Reynaga. Pedro is 19 years old, a first-generation American, and the first person in his family to go to college. He grew up on Beacon Hill, and then he excelled at Cleveland High School. And last school year, he studied for free at South Seattle College as a 13th Year Promise Scholar. He did awesome.  In fact, he did so awesome that he wound up spending the summer at an internship in City Hall. In fact, in my office.

So I can tell you firsthand he is an incredible young man. He can’t be here today, he’s in class. But his parents, Jose and Maria are here today, can you stand so we can thank you. Pedro’s ability to do better for the City show what is possible when we come together to make good things possible. Today, Pedro is starting his second year of college – his 14th year.  He’s getting another year of free college, and he’s getting around Seattle with the free ORCA pass he’s getting it through our ORCA Opportunity program.

Like I said: Government is a vehicle for good.

But it is not the only place where we will find solutions to our challenges. It will take everyone –  businesses, philanthropists, neighborhoods, people of faith, and community organizations – working as full partners with the City government. It will take our state, counties, and our region as full partners, too.

Now is time to get to work, to on delivering this budget, and I look forward to working with you City Council to cement this budget as a guide for our work in the coming year.

I know beyond any shadow of a doubt we can work together and put our progressive values into action. I also know we have a lot more to do.

So let’s come together and get it done.

Let’s get this budget under way.

Thank you very much.