Urban Politics #383 Explaining the Mystery of the City Budget

This may sound like a boring topic with a title that is trying hard to make it exciting. However, if I were to title it “How to spend a million dollars,” you might read it. And, hopefully you are right now. So here it is in a nutshell.

The City’s 2016 Budget determines how your public dollars are spent next year. The average citizen doesn’t know the details of how the council comes up with the budget. It is critical to know because in this case, knowledge is power.

Remember, “process” rules content. I know that may sound bizarre. But it is true. Because no matter how good your idea is, how rational an argument you can present, how passionate your campaign, the truth is that unless something is in writing and has at least 3 councilmembers supporting it by a certain date, it most likely will have a short life. That’s because it will then take a majority to get it even considered by the council.

Let me break this down for you.

Mayor Murray sent his proposed budget to the Council on September 28th. To make changes, the public has until October 28th at 10 a.m. to get 3 councilmembers to propose a specific budget change for discussion during budget meetings. If something is submitted after that date, then 5 councilmembers are needed to get it on the agenda for a vote. It would take another vote with at least 5 councilmembers voting for it to be included in the budget.

So the key date to remember is OCTOBER 28th. In other words: get to Councilmembers now to add or remove items from the budget. The Councilmember you meet with needs to be one of 3 “sponsors” for a request, referred within council jargon as a “green sheet.” If you want to impress a Councilmember and give him or her the impression you understand their inside game, then ask them to sponsor or sign a green sheet to do what you want. It’s best to go with something written to make it easier for the councilmember to go forward with this task. This makes things easier for councilmembers or their staff, and increases the chances that they will not let it drop through the cracks.

So, get organized NOW, not later. Keep in mind that there’s a deadline of 10/28.

City Council 2016 Budget Schedule

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray today released his proposed 2016 budget and proposed 2016-21 Capital Improvement Program.

The City Council’s Budget Committee will begin its consideration of the budget on Thursday, October 1, with an overview provided by the City Budget Office.

Public input is vital to Council review and helps Councilmembers develop a budget that best reflects the needs of the City. The Council’s Budget Committee will hold two public hearings, on October 6 at October 20. Both hearings will take place at Seattle City Hall. The hearings will begin at 5:30 p.m.; sign-in begins at 4:30 p.m.

The hearing on October 6 will also include a hearing on Council Bill 118502, to re-organize the Department of Planning and Development into two separate departments: 1) the Office of Planning and Community Development, and 2) the Department of Construction and Inspections. This legislation is being considered as part of the 2016 budget.

The schedule for Council Budget Committee meetings is as follows:

October 1                            Overview of Mayor’s Proposed Budget

October 6-9                        Department Budget Overview (see tentative schedule)

October 19-22                   Issue Identification

October 29-Nov. 2           Presentation/Discussion of Options (Round 1)

November 13-16              Final Decisions and Votes (Round 2)

November 23                    Full Council adopts 2015 budget, endorses 2016 budget

You can view agendas for Budget Committee meetings here, or sign up to receive agendas by e-mail.

The Council’s budget website has additional information, including a glossary of budget terms and links to supporting documents, as they become available.

The public is welcome to attend meetings, and can watch live on the Seattle Channel at http://www.seattlechannel.org/live.

Comments on the budget can also be submitted online to nick.licata@seattle.gov.

All meetings will take place in the Council Chambers on the 2nd floor of City Hall, at 600 4th Avenue, between James and Cherry.

UP #367: Fair Trade Music Seattle

Many of you may already be familiar with my strong support for worker rights. I sponsored the Council’s Paid Sick and Safe Leave ordinance in 2011, which promotes healthy work environments by enforcing standards for paid sick days, ensuring employers provide a minimum amount of paid time off for employees to take care of themselves or their sick family members. As a member of the Minimum Wage and Income Inequality Committee, I helped shape Seattle’s $15 minimum wage Ordinance that went into effect this year. I also proposed the creation of the Office of Labor Standards in 2013, which oversees labor law enforcement for minimum wage, paid sick and safe leave, job assistance, and administrative wage theft.

Today, the City Council passed another piece of legislation in support of workers: The Fair Trade Music Seattle Resolution, which I sponsored along with Councilmember O’Brien. It supports improvements to working conditions for musicians.

Formed in August 2012, Fair Trade Music works to bring together union and non-union club musicians to advocate for fair treatment of musicians.

Why was this Resolution called for? Because musicians too often “pay to play” or play for “zero minus expenses” – the venue pays them nothing while they must cover their own costs.

There is often no transparency or accountability. Pay may be based on income from tickets sales at the door or from the bar/restaurant with the venue providing no documentation of income or expenses. Everyone but the musicians gets paid first: the dishwasher, the servers, the bartender, the sound tech, with the musicians who attract the patrons receiving whatever money remains. And a lack of enforceable written agreements leads to last-minute changes in pay, sometimes after performances are over.

There are more issues, such as the practical matter of musicians being able to find a place to park when loading and unloading their equipment. Musicians risk getting parking tickets, having to pay for expensive parking that eats into their pay, or being forced to carry heavy instruments or equipment long distances.

There’s the issue of sound. Many clubs have poor sound systems run by inexperienced sound techs. And, there’s the issue of a lack of communication and common misunderstandings between venue owners and musicians.

To address these problems, Fair Trade Music Seattle worked with music venue owners, the City of Seattle’s Office of Film and Music, and the Seattle Music Commission to help establish Seattle’s Musician Loading Zones program, which facilitates convenient loading and unloading in front of some of our busiest music clubs. They’ve also developed templates for musicians’ performance contracts so venues and musicians can reach quick and reliable agreements. Some venues have even adopted the template to provide musicians who lack them. Fair Trade Music Seattle has conducted classes for musicians on how to negotiate and enforce a fair agreement.

Fair Trade Music Seattle received funding from the Musician’s Local, the national Musicians union, and the Washington State Labor Council to provide free diagnostic and tune-up services for sound systems in Fair Trade Music venues or free piano tuning services.

As of this writing, the following Seattle venues have agreed to abide by Fair Trade Music standards. I hope to see many more venues sign up in the coming months.

88 Keys Dueling Piano Bar (Pioneer Square);

Capitol Cider (Capitol Hill);

Egan’s Ballard Jam House (Ballard);

The Moore (downtown);

Nectar Lounge (Fremont);

The Neptune (University District);

The Paramount (downtown);

Pies & Pints (Roosevelt);

Re-bar (Denny);

Royal Room (Columbia City);

SeaMonster (Wallingford);

The Showbox (downtown),

Showbox SoDo (SoDo);

Skylark Cafe (West Seattle);

Stone Way Cafe (Fremont);

Tula’s Restaurant and Jazz Club (Belltown);

Vito’s (downtown).

Next steps for this initiative include expanding the Musician Loading Zones program and exploring “non-compete” clauses in contracts with some of our local music festivals. Such non-compete clauses prohibit musicians from playing in clubs for a period of time before and after particular festivals.

Fair Trade Music Seattle is also developing a Fair Trade Music sign with a recognizable logo that participating venues can display to let patrons know which venues support fair treatment of musicians. It’s hoped such signage will also encourage venues not yet participating in the program to join.

Keep in touch…



On Wednesday, April 1, 2015, the City of Seattle’s historic new minimum wage law goes into effect.   All employers will have to pay their employees a minimum of $11 an hour, but those employers with 500 or fewer employees can count tips and medical benefit payments to help them reach the $11 minimum wage.

What does this mean?  Well, for employers and employees alike, on April 1, 2015, the Office of Labor Standards (OLS) will begin to enforce this new minimum wage. During the first year, OLS will emphasize education and compliance and, in most cases, will not seek penalties.  That enforcement stance will not keep them from obtaining full payment of any unpaid wages.


I proposed the creation of the Office of Labor Standards in Fall of 2013.  The Council agreed then that we should find some way to focus our labor law enforcement laws (including paid sick and safe leave, the job assistance ordinance, and the administrative wage theft ordinance).  We provided some funding in the 2014 budget to explore how we could – through better compliance – increase equity and establish a fair and healthy economy for workers, businesses and residents.  The Mayor then created a Labor Standards Enforcement Advisory Group who, in September last year, made the recommendations that ultimately led to the development and funding of OLS as a new division of the Seattle Office for Civil Rights.

To implement and inform workers and employers alike of the new minimum wage, OLS has taken a number of steps.

  • Three public forums were held in November, leading to a public process where, together with community stakeholders, administrative rules were developed and finalized earlier this month.
  • A Poster for Employees has been developed that, by law, employers must post in the workplace.
  • Ads are running on Spanish language radio stations El Rey and ESPN Deportes
  • Starting Monday, March 30, there will be bus sign advertising of the new requirement.
  • Later next month, on April 14, 2015, OLS will host a Business Breakfast Meeting with Employers.


Though enforcement of the new minimum wage begins on April 1, the roll out of the new OLS remains a work in progress.  Steps yet to be taken include:

  1. Hiring a permanent Executive Director

Although an Interim Director has been hired, the search for a permanent Director continues, with the search deadline to be extended.

  1. Labor Standards Outreach and Education Funds Dispersement

The Mayor and Council provided funding in the 2015 budget to comply with a City Auditor’s recommendation to fund work with organizations with access to difficulttoreach populations, in order to get greater compliance with our labor standards.  Those funds have not been awarded yet.  12-month grants are to be announced in June after a competitive Request for Proposals Process that was scheduled to begin in March and end in April. It’s unclear what the status of this timeline is now, given that the RFP has not yet gone out.

  1. Identification of Dedicated Revenue to Support the Operations of OLS

The OLS Budget is about $1.5 million a year for OLS staff and Contracts.  San Francisco’s OLS has a ~ $4 million budget.  Seattle has a similar number of low wage workers to San Francisco, yet our labor standards laws will cover far more workers than San Francisco’s.  A compliance system to make sure that our City’s labor laws are enforced requires additional, and dedicated, resources.   

Last year, the Council caught up with several years’ worth of missed business license inflation adjustments and increased the flat rate, 2-tiered business license fee, raising the vast majority of the $1.1 million increase in revenue from businesses with over $20,000 in revenue.  I believe a new progressive business license fee is a good potential dedicated revenue stream for the Office of Labor Standards, especially given the flat rate approach Seattle currently uses in comparison to the progressive approach of other cities.


Seattle is rightfully getting a lot of national attention for leading the way on addressing income inequality.  But as a recent Guardian article points out, even as leaders, we still have a long way to go.  We can keep moving in the right direction by enforcing the good laws we have.  If you are not getting paid the new minimum wage on Wednesday, April 1, please call 206-684-4500, or visit the Central Building, 810 Third Avenue, Suite 750, or fill out this intake questionnaire.