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Seattle council mulls compromise on SPD budget as it nears crucial veto override vote

A crowd gathered to hear Seattle Police Officers Guild President Mike Solan speak. (Jason Rantz/KTTH)

Seattle councilmembers are gearing up for a key vote during a special Tuesday session, where they’ll decide whether to override Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan’s veto of a budget balancing package that would enact a series of cuts to the city’s police department.

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City council originally approved the cuts in a 7-1 vote in early August. While it would technically only need six votes to overturn Durkan’s veto, it would actually need seven to ensure that the money is appropriated as laid out in the legislation.

That being so, there are concerns that sentiments on the council have shifted in the weeks since it initially approved the budget cuts, and that it may no longer have enough votes to override the mayor.

That has Council President Lorena Gonzalez — who herself vowed to vote in favor of the override — presenting an alternative “compromise” package to vote on should the council fall short of the requisite seven votes.

The new bill scales back the council’s cuts to the SPD’s budget on a number of levels, including reducing promised community investments in public safety from $14 million down to $2.5 million. It would also walk back most of its previously-approved reductions to the city’s Navigation Team, cutting just two full-time positions from the team (which at this time remain unfilled), rather than eliminating it entirely.

“I continue to stand by what we did this summer, and I continue to believe that those were the right policy choices,” Gonzalez said. “Nonetheless, I do think that because there have been some members of the council who have expressed concerns about a path forward, and about the possibility of changing their position on the budget that we considered, it’s imperative and it’s appropriate for us to have an alternative proposal in front of the council for consideration should the override of the mayor’s veto fail.”

Councilmember Kshama Sawant levied criticism against Gonzalez having an alternative bill teed up in advance of Tuesday’s session, expressing concerns that it undermines the council’s override of Durkan’s veto.

“For those of us who are willing to override the veto, I don’t understand the bargaining strategy to say ‘here’s another bill that capitulates on many things if the override doesn’t succeed,’” she noted during Monday morning’s briefing. “That doesn’t present any incentive for the councilmembers who may be intending to not support the override of the veto.”

Sawant went on to label the alternative bill a “staggering attempt at a sleight of hand,” while calling on her fellow councilmembers to publicly state their positions on overriding Durkan’s veto in advance of Tuesday’s vote.

Decriminalize Seattle and King County Equity Now, whose proposals have guided the council’s direction on cutting SPD’s budget, issued a joint statement Monday, echoing Sawant’s sentiments and claiming that Gonzalez’s alternative bill “guts efforts to divest from policing and invest in the Black community.”

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“This is unacceptable,” the statement reads. “This new bill represents an utter capitulation to the Mayor, who has shamelessly not moved from her anti-Black, pro-police position. The bill does not get us closer to creating true community safety. We reject this approach and question the motives behind it. We urge Council members to override the Mayor’s veto outright. For the first time in their careers, we urge them to stand on the right side of history, stand for Black lives, and against the Mayor’s anti-Black obstructionism.”

Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda — who heads the council’s budget committee — said that she remains “hopeful” that the council will have enough votes to move forward on the override.

“I think it’s important for us to continue to provide education to the community that what we did [in August] was a 1% reduction — it was a $3 million reduction to a $409 million budget [in 2020],” she added. “The remaining small amount that we’re talking about is really symbolic in nature — this was a small investment, a down payment if you will.”

Councilmembers are scheduled to convene Tuesday at 3 p.m. for the veto override vote.

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