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Week in Review: November 17, 2023 - with Erica Barnett

Hacks & Wonks

Release Date: 11/17/2023

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More Episodes

On this week-in-review, Crystal is joined by Seattle political reporter and editor of PubliCola, Erica Barnett!

First up, for those looking to supercharge their engagement in Washington State policymaking or advocacy, Crystal gives a shout-out for the Washington State Institute for a Democratic Future program. Applications for their 2024 class are open and due by November 20th for early applicants (there is also an extended “late application period” until November 27th but with an increased application fee). Check out the program that launched Crystal’s career in politics and see if it’s right for you!

Crystal and Erica then dive into a roundup of election news starting with how the Seattle City Council is losing institutional knowledge with its makeup shifting after last week’s election results, meaning the new council will need to get up to speed on many complex upcoming issues such as the City budget, the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG) contract, and the Comprehensive Plan. Contributing to this loss of experience is Teresa Mosqueda moving over to the King County Council and how speculation has begun over who her appointed replacement will be. The election news wraps up with two snafus - the King County website breaking on Election Night and USPS finally delivering missing ballots from an unchecked mailbox.

Moving on from elections, they discuss Seattle budget news - a $20 million increase in the JumpStart Tax to fund student mental health care programs, narrow passage of controversial ShotSpotter surveillance technology, continued struggle to fund City employee pay increases, and a spotty outlook for much-needed progressive revenue solutions. Delving further into City worker wage issues, the City sent an oblivious email to workers providing financial tips whilst asking them to accept a sub-inflationary pay increase and the tentative firefighters’ union contract also doesn’t keep up with cost of living. Finally, Crystal and Erica revisit the saga unfolding in Burien with a looming deadline to accept $1 million to address their homelessness crisis and Sound Transit resumes fare enforcement.

As always, a full text transcript of the show is available below and at officialhacksandwonks.com.

Find the host, Crystal Fincher, on Twitter at @finchfrii and find today’s co-host, Erica Barnett, at @ericacbarnett.

 

Resources

WAIDF - Washington State Institute for a Democratic Future

 

Morales Surges While Other Progressives Flail in Latest Election Results; Mosqueda Explains Why She’ll Stay Through the End of This Year” from PubliCola

 

Who Will Replace Teresa Mosqueda?” by Hannah Krieg from The Stranger

 

County Website Failed on Election Night Due to “Traffic Issue”” by Erica C. Barnett from PubliCola

 

USPS failed to deliver ballots from one Seattle mail drop box” by Sarah Grace Taylor from The Seattle Times

 

City Budget Will Fund Shotspotter—But Also Significant Progressive Priorities, Including $20 Million for Student Mental Health” by Erica C. Barnett from PubliCola

 

A Mixed Seattle Budget, While a $221 Million Deficit Still Looms” by Amy Sundberg from Notes from the Emerald City

 

City Employees Seeking Wage Increase Advised to “Avoid Impulse Buys”” by Erica C. Barnett from PubliCola

 

Firefighters’ Tentative Contract Could be Bad News for Other City Workers Seeking Pay Increases” by Erica C. Barnett from PubliCola

 

As Deadline to Use or Lose $1 Million in Shelter Funding Looms, Top Burien Official Offers New Explanation for Failing to Inform Some on Council” by Erica C. Barnett from PubliCola

 

King County gives Burien deadline to take $1 million for homeless shelter” by Greg Kim from The Seattle Times

 

Sound Transit to start issuing citations today to riders who don’t pay” by David Kroman from The Seattle Times

 

Seattle light rail is about to get heavy for those who don't pay the fare” by Joshua McNichols from KUOW

 

Find stories that Crystal is reading here

 

Listen on your favorite podcast app to all our episodes here

 

Transcript

[00:00:00] Crystal Fincher: Welcome to Hacks & Wonks. I'm Crystal Fincher, and I'm a political consultant and your host. On this show, we talk with policy wonks and political hacks to gather insight into local politics and policy in Washington State through the lens of those doing the work with behind-the-scenes perspectives on what's happening, why it's happening, and what you can do about it. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast to get the full versions of our Tuesday topical shows and our Friday week-in-reviews delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, the most helpful thing you can do is leave a review wherever you listen to Hacks & Wonks. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at officialhacksandwonks.com and in our episode notes.

If you missed our 2023 Post-Election Roundtable on Monday night, you can catch the recording on our YouTube channel, or Facebook, or Twitter feeds. We'll also be releasing the roundtable next week as podcast episodes. Tune in for our breakdown of last week's election results with guest panelists Katie Wilson, Andrew Villeneuve and Robert Cruikshank. Also wanna make sure if you can't listen to the Post-Election Roundtable, it will be available on the website with a full text transcript. Today, we are continuing our Friday week-in-review shows where we review the news of the week with a co-host. Welcome back to the program, friend of the show, today's co-host: Seattle political reporter and editor of PubliCola, Erica Barnett.

[00:01:38] Erica Barnett: It's great to be here.

[00:01:40] Crystal Fincher: Great to have you back as always.

It's the time of year where I get to talk about the Washington Institute for a Democratic Future. It is that time again and seeing as how this is Hacks & Wonks and a lot of you are hacks and wonks who are listening, the Washington Institute for a Democratic Future is really ideal for people who may be interested in looking at working in policy or politics, getting more involved in their community and activism. It is a six-month fellowship that runs from January to June that has 10 intensive weekends plus an optional week in Washington, DC. And each of these weekends is in a different place geographically across the state. And it gives you the opportunity to do a deep dive on policy, how that policy is impacting people on the ground from a variety of different perspectives - so, you know, there's a huge network of legislators, policy experts, advocacy organizations, unions, business owners, different people. So you may go to Kitsap County and explore the economy in Bremerton and issues that are happening there. In Central Washington, issues that are important there and talking about legislation that impacts migrant workers and immigration - from a policy perspective - but also talking to workers and representatives for themselves, talking to farmers and business owners there to see how they're being impacted and what their feedback is and what they feel the most prevalent issues that they have.

So it's getting a really comprehensive view of what people are facing on the ground throughout the state and how policy is impacting that and has a potential to impact that. So just really important - that is absolutely what I credit for me working in politics. I started my political career after doing IDF - just a really powerful network and a really powerful policy education in ways that really matter and getting to see that a lot of times the situations aren't simple, different people have different perspectives, policy impacts people in different ways. Few things are 100% good and positive and 100% bad or negative. It's really understanding how things impact people differently and trying to do the most good as possible, particularly considering sometimes what's politically possible, different types of activism - whether you're working legislatively, electorally, just more on the ground in community, mutual aid, just a lot of different things.

So I recommend this. The early application deadline is Monday, November 20th - so coming up. There's an extended late application period that continues through Monday, November 27th. The website is democraticfuture.org. There's more information about it there, but definitely encourage anyone who may be considering working in politics or who's interested in that - who wants to understand how they can more deeply impact policy in their community and state - to do that. I do want to underscore that you don't have to already be an insider. You don't have to have any idea of what's going on, really. This is a Democratic organization - it is not catering to Republicans, I can tell you that - but looking at people with a variety of experience from diverse backgrounds across the state. It's just a program that I heartily recommend, and I believe most people who go through it come out on the other end more able to impact change in the world around them. So apply to the Institute for a Democratic Future.

Well, we think we have a pretty good view of what actually happened with the election now. It's taken a while to count, but what are your takeaways from the general election that we just had?

[00:05:39] Erica Barnett: Well, I mean - as others have said, and as I've said in other venues - obviously we are, the City we, are going in a more centrist direction with the city council. From Position 7 - electing Bob Kettle over Andrew Lewis - kicking out a couple other councilmembers. So politically, I think the direction is going to be a little less progressive generally, a little more in the sort of Sara Nelson centrist direction. And I think - big picture - the council is going to be made up primarily of new people and people without a whole lot of experience. The most experienced councilmember, I believe, will be Tammy Morales, who just narrowly got reelected - correct me if I'm wrong on that. But not a lot of institutional memory and knowledge on the council, which I think is going to be - it's always problematic when you lose the majority of an institution all at once, right? And when you're talking about staff who have been there for a long time, as well as councilmembers who maybe have a few terms under their belt - so people are going to be learning on the job and they're gonna be doing it in a year when there's a massive looming budget crisis, when there is the Seattle Police Officers Guild contract on the table, and just lots of other things that the new council is going to have to grapple with - that are really, really big problems and big questions - and they'll be doing it, sort of coming in with virtually no City experience in almost every single seat.

[00:07:23] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, that is - it's a really big deal. And we talked about this kind of in the beginning when people were filing or announcing that they weren't running for re-election - kind of hitting a lot of people going - we're losing a ton of institutional knowledge. And just the work that it takes to get up to speed, it's not just what do you wanna do with issues, with - and even with that, a number of the new councilmembers on the campaign trail had a lot of questions, had a lot of things that they wanted to find out and investigate and get to the bottom of, but maybe not as many new ideas. And they're gonna have to understand just procedurally how do things work. Legislation is a weird thing - crafting legislation, working it through the process is not an intuitive endeavor. And it does take institutional knowledge. There's so many reports, committees, just things to digest when you're getting in - even if you've held office before. If you haven't, that's just a big mountain to climb to get your feet underneath you as far as how to understand what's happening from all of the different information sources, advocates, departments, but also how to then enact and respond to the challenges that are happening.

I think in this situation, it actually passes a big advantage to the mayor's office. The mayor's office does have a lot of institutional knowledge. The mayor's office does have an agenda that they wanna enact. And right now the council - the new council - is not going to really be in a position to ask questions based on historical knowledge, to investigate or interrogate what expenditures may be, what proposals may be, if there is precedent for something, if there isn't, how something fared before when it was proposed or when it was enacted. There are a lot of things that we do and undo in government and understanding the history of that - how it worked out - is actually really useful so we can learn from what we did before and do better next time, particularly when implementation with a lot of programs has been a major issue. So I am concerned for what this is going to look like in practice with a council that just is really inexperienced.

[00:09:41] Erica Barnett: Yeah, I mean, and I just was thinking as you're talking - just kind of going through all the different folks that have been elected and thinking about how - on the current council, I would lift up Lisa Herbold as an example of somebody who's been there 25 years in various roles. And she is the person, particularly like during budget, who brings up things that have happened in the past or says - Well, we actually discussed this six years ago and this was the discussion then, or there's a proviso on this money that says this. And you need someone who is able to do that, whether it's a staff member or a number of staff members or a councilmember, not just during budget time, but during - for example, the SPOG contract. Five members of the council sit on the Labor Relations Policy Committee and they're going to be bargaining with the police guild and Mayor Harrell's office. And if you are talking about people that don't have a lot of institutional knowledge of what came before, I mean - like you, I'm concerned that they're just going to get steamrolled by whatever the mayor's office and SPOG decide that they want or that they can agree to.

And I also thought of another thing that they're going to be doing next year, which is the Comprehensive Plan. There's a major update every 10 years and that's happening next year. And that's the document that guides planning and development and zoning for the entire city. And during the campaign, this was a question that came up - which Comp Plan option do you support? And everybody said Comp Plan 5 - for the most part. And I think that without getting into the details of what that even means, I would be really curious to ask every single person who was elected - So what's in Comp Plan 5? Because I think that sometimes campaigns deal with surface level issues, but the Comprehensive Plan is a massively complex document that they're going to be discussing over the course of a year now - starting in January, February - and it's really consequential. So that's just another example of a complex decision that this council is going to have to be making - again, without a lot of institutional knowledge.

And I will say just to mention one idea that got squashed this year, Teresa Mosqueda, who is one of the councilmembers who's leaving to go serve on King County Council, brought up the idea of doing staggered elections so that instead of electing all 7 district city council seats all at once, like we did this year, we would do 4 one year and then 3 two years from then. And the idea is that even if you elect a completely new council every four years, at least people have a couple of years of experience under their belts. And that idea just got quashed, and I think it's very unlikely to happen - but that would have made a little bit of difference.

[00:12:51] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and I thought that was an excellent idea - was sad to see that not be able to move forward. Now, speaking of Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, who was just elected to the King County Council - this now brings up an issue of there being a vacancy timing around when she can choose to go or not. Evidently there's been some calls - maybe people looking at the Supreme Court or Congress, different things, and then looking at the Seattle Council and going - Well, hey, if there's an opportunity to get another progressive in, maybe you should leave early. Why did she appear to decide against that?

[00:13:31] Erica Barnett: Yeah, I mean, Teresa Mosqueda is not Ruth Bader Ginsburg. And one big difference is that she is not independently wealthy and - nor is her staff. And so I think that just as a practical matter - and this was my immediate reaction actually when I started seeing calls for her to step down and just kind of not have a job for a couple months, was - well, like normal people can't do that. And even if you're making $130,000 a year, or whatever it currently is at the city council, it is hard when - she has a little kid. And her staff, some of whom may go over with her to King County Council, still need to make a living. So there's a very practical consideration.

And the other thing is, I think it's a bit of sour grapes. I mean, the voters have spoken and I think it would be a bit of sour grapes to say - Well, we're gonna shove a progressive onto the council under the wire. But more importantly, I don't think that it would probably work. I don't think it would be successful to try to get - for Teresa Mosqueda to try to appoint another Teresa Mosqueda-type to the council because you have to get the support of your colleagues. And I don't know that the current council would be willing to sort of subvert the process. I mean, it wouldn't be subverting the process, it would just be rushing it a bit. But to do that at this point, when we have a new council coming in, it just - there's a sense of fairness about that, that I think would strike some of the current council the wrong way, even if they are more progressive people who are leaving.

[00:15:17] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and it's not like there's a situation now, or upcoming with the new council, where there is a one-member majority and this one change is going to tip the balance of decisions that are made. I think with looking at some of the budget action, which we'll talk about shortly, earlier this week - we can see that's not the case. And there's also just the responsibilities of the job, which I think Teresa Mosqueda takes seriously. The City of Seattle is heading into a pretty significant budget deficit - hundreds of millions of dollars budget deficit. And I think most people consider her to be the foremost budget expert on the council - particularly with so many new people coming into the council and so much work to do on the budget, the more work she can do to help prepare this next council for what's gonna happen, to help usher in what hopefully will be sustainable changes to the budget, the better for everyone and for the city, I believe. So that's gonna be interesting.

I did see Hannah Krieg report on rumors that Tanya Woo is either angling for, or people are angling for her, to be appointed to that position when that does happen. Tanya just lost a very narrow election to Tammy Morales in Seattle's District 2. What do you think the prospects for that would be, or what that would mean?

[00:16:45] Erica Barnett: Well, I mean, I would be completely speculating, but it does seem - and segue to completely speculate about that - I mean, it does seem sort of unlikely, you know, just looking at historical appointments for the council to appoint somebody who ran against one of the people that won. Historically what the council has done is either appoint sort of placeholder people who have said they're not going to run for re-election, because remember - this is just a temporary position until the next election, which in this case would actually be in 2024. Because of the way it works, it would be the next state election since there's not another city election until '25. So you're talking about a very temporary seat. I don't know. At this point, my gut would be that they wouldn't do that. But again, that is just speculation. I know Brianna Thomas, who ran for council a couple of times and now works in the mayor's office in labor relations, is another potential person who is definitely angling for that position. So she seems like another possibility, but again, that's somebody who really wants to stay on the council and maybe perceived as progressive, or a member of the kind of progressive wing of the council - she worked for Lorena González, who's quite progressive, before joining the mayor's office. So I'm not following that super, super closely yet, but yeah - it'll be interesting, but perhaps not hugely consequential, except for 2024, who ends up getting that position.

[00:18:36] Crystal Fincher: I wanna talk about another Election Night story, or one that was really made plain on Election Night. And that was King County's elections website and its performance or lack thereof on Election Day. What happened?

[00:18:50] Erica Barnett: Yeah, so I've been wanting to write about the King County website and it's not just the elections website, but we'll talk about that specifically. But I would encourage people to go to kingcounty.gov and just check it out. See what you think. They did a big website redesign, revamp. And one of the consequences of that revamp is that it's really hard apparently to load sort of new information into the website for just kind of regular County departments. And so on Election Night, if you are an election watcher, what ordinarily happens is that you start refreshing the webpage around 8:10p. The results usually go up right around 8:15p. And so on Election Night, people were refreshing, refreshing, refreshing, but there were no results for at least 15 minutes. I actually gave up and got the results from King 5, which apparently got them because the elections people had to post the results on Twitter. I'm not really on Twitter that much anymore, so I didn't see this, but they had to create essentially a workaround for this website that is - it's not only does it look like something from - I don't know, 1999, maybe that's a little mean, 2003 we'll say - but it doesn't function very well and a lot of stuff is broken, and links don't work, and all the photos are gone, and it's just a mess. And yeah, it was really consequential on Election Night when people were trying to find out who won and couldn't get this information for 15, 20 minutes, which I know might not sound like much, but it is hugely consequential if you are a campaign or if you are somebody interested in the results, like I was as a reporter. So man, it was just a mess.

[00:20:54] Crystal Fincher: It was a mess. I was at KIRO doing Election Night coverage and it was a big challenge. Fortunately, their team was able to get the results from the alternate posts, so we had them before they were live on the website. But it's really a challenge. And especially at this point in time where there is so much bad faith information, misinformation about elections, the integrity of our elections, and what's happening. Unfortunately, that means that we need to do as great a job as possible at being transparent, at making sure that things work as expected, that we can explain what's happening and why it's happening, and provide some predictability and transparency in the process. And having that happen on Election Night is very suboptimal. We'll see what improvements they make to it. And we've seen rollouts of websites - these things are hard. It is not like you flip a switch and everything works. So I don't wanna devalue the work involved, but I do hope they reflect on the timing of this, the type of testing and rigor that they use to test this - especially for the kind of strain that is expected on a night like Election Night. I think we heard some of the reasoning was that - Well, you know, it just had a lot of traffic and that contributed to the collapse. Well, yeah, that's gonna be expected on Election Night. And I hope they are able to do a better job in the future - making sure that it can accommodate the infrequent but predictable heavy loads that the website is going to experience.

[00:22:40] Erica Barnett: Well, I think in one way it was actually optimal - possibly - because I think it, you know, people have been complaining about this website for a while. I mean, when I first went to it - and I don't know, it's probably been a month or two now - I truly thought, and again, it's kingcounty.gov. I truly thought it was a, like a test website. Like it was sort of the interim version between the old website and the new one, and this was just like temporary. And then called and found out - no, this is the website. And I think there are just - there are so many things that are suboptimal and just bad about it. And I think that sometimes in my experience, the tech side of things tend to, you know, say things like - Well, it's just, you know, it's not the design, it's that you're just not used to using it, or you're not using it right, or there's nothing wrong, there's nothing to see here. And I think a website falling apart on Election Night that just really like pissed off a number of people outside the county might impel them to actually take some action on this thing, because it is infuriating to use. I mean, it is - just one quick example that, you know, that's emblematic - is you go to the website now, and one of the, it's sort of like "the top things people need." And one of them is like animal control. Another is a camera in rural King County that like is on some road in rural King County - I don't know who needs that, but I wouldn't put it in the top, you know, 10,000 things on that website that people are looking for. So hopefully this will bring some sanity back, 'cause I use that website pretty frequently and it is very frustrating to use.

[00:24:35] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and I also use it frequently. And we didn't talk about this part before, but yeah - I had the same thought as you. I thought it was an interim site that - okay, well, they - my read was - well, they were hoping to do some upgrades, but clearly they couldn't get them done in time. So this is the, you know, meantime, they just stripped it down to bare bones and just want to make sure it's functional. That was my read, my assumption - I didn't look very deeply into it besides just being frustrated that everything was hard to find and wasn't where it was before. But yeah, it was a challenge, these things often are. But that would also make me want to keep it as, these things happening as far away from elections as possible. Like, you know, let's implement changes in January or February instead of later in the year, you know, closer to the primary or general election if we're doing these things. And yes, it may be a bigger site-wide thing, but my goodness - if you're hoping that things land well with the public, this is certainly - elections are one of the most visible things that the county does. I would be surprised if there was something that generated more traffic to the website than the election site around election time. But we will see how that continues and hopefully they're able to get that together soon.

Also want to talk about another elections-related story, and that was the story of the post office missing pickups from a ballot box that contained ballots in some races - one of them still is too close to officially call. What happened here?

[00:26:21] Erica Barnett: Well, from what I understand, the post office just didn't pick up any mail from this one site - or sorry, from this one box for like a month. And I just read about it in The Seattle Times, probably like you did. And I got a tip about it and was gonna look into it, but you know, a one-person website, so I didn't get around to it - Times did. And yeah, it just sounds like they somehow messed up and didn't pick up any mail at this box. So there are 85 ballots, I believe, that are being counted now. Not enough to turn around Ron Davis's election prospects against Maritza Rivera in District 4, but still - 85 ballots is 85 ballots. When you're talking about margins of like 300 votes, every little bit counts. So this was pretty significant to find out about at the, you know, at the 13th hour, really.

[00:27:31] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, absolutely. And then just reading about the process that occurs when this does happen. It looks like they were able to follow the process and get these ballots counted by verifying the dates and signatures on them, but certainly a conundrum here, and would love to see what's put in place to make sure that this doesn't happen again. Yeah, will be interesting to see.

And the last thing I'll just say about these elections is - you alluded to a little bit earlier with talking about Teresa Mosqueda - it's not just her, but it's her staff. And in big cities - smaller cities and suburbs don't have council staff, but in Seattle, they do. And the role of staff is really important. It's going to be even more important because they're gonna hold the institutional knowledge. They do a lot of the policy work, preparation work, doing the research, interacting with community, doing constituent service. And a lot of them have been there for a while. They are absolutely valuable resources. Sometimes bureaucrats get a bad name for working in government service, but I just - seeing the work that they do, how instrumental they are to the process, particularly in support of elected officials who oftentimes just need good information and assistance to get stuff through the system. It's really important to have capable and competent bureaucrats. I think the City does have a number of them, and I think we're gonna see how important they are in the coming year.

[00:29:04] Erica Barnett: Yeah, the City couldn't run without the deep state. I mean, truly. You need those people who've been there 20 years who like know Robert's Rules of Order in and out, and can write a script and, you know, for a city councilmember to read, and can write legislation and just do all the sort of grunt work that keeps things running. I mean, they, you know, staff gets maligned and they're always sort of subject to budget cuts because - who needs all these administrative people? But in a lot of cases, you really do need the administrative people because they're the ones that make the council meeting not look like chaos.

[00:29:41] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. And who help make legislation stand up to legal challenges and get things implemented in the way they were intended. It is really important and just wanted to say that I see them. And when - I'm thinking about Andrew Lewis, who was not reelected - that means that his staff has a lot of question marks too. And in a city as expensive to live in in Seattle, that is a harrowing thing. So elections do impact lots of people in lots of different ways.

I do wanna talk about the budget, and action this week with the council pertaining to the budget. What did they do?

[00:30:21] Erica Barnett: Well, they are still continuing to sort of hack away at Mayor Bruce Harrell's 2024 budget. And they have voted on a whole slew of amendments. I would say the headline, and surprisingly it has not been a huge headline, is that Kshama Sawant - outgoing councilmember, often does a lot of kind of performative stunty stuff that doesn't actually result in legislation - but she won on a big issue this week. She got $20 million - a very, very tiny increase, I think it was 0.01%. So 0.0001 to the JumpStart Tax to fund mental health care and mental health programs for students. And $20 million is a really big deal at a time when the City is anticipating big budget decisions next year, potentially budget cuts. And when a lot of these debates in the City budget are over $300,000 or $1.5 million, just these very tiny increments. So to me, that is the huge headline is that Kshama Sawant sort of won the budget as she is walking out the door.

But other stuff in the budget this year includes ShotSpotter, which is the controversial proposal that Mayor Bruce Harrell has made for a couple of years running to put surveillance systems in neighborhoods to detect gunshots or things that sound like gunshots. A lot of criticism of that system, but it sounds like the council is going to finally give in - on a 5-4 vote most likely - and fund that. And City pay increases are still sort of outstanding because that work is happening in the background, but there's gonna need to be money for City employees to get pay increases. And there's a lot of other stuff kind of around the margins - Sara Nelson is getting some money for the City to subsidize private drug treatment for some folks. And then kind of looming in the background after they pass this budget - and this is another reason Teresa Mosqueda, as you mentioned, is sticking around - They've got to figure out some revenue solutions for next year, 2025, and beyond. So they're looking at other increases to JumpStart, a capital gains tax, and there was talk of a CEO excess compensation tax but it seems like that's not gonna raise very much money - so it's off the table for now.

[00:33:14] Crystal Fincher: Well, it certainly is gonna be interesting to see how those conversations play out as this year progresses, this next year progresses. I know several of the candidates who were elected expressed curiosity at some of the revenue options but were notoriously hesitant to commit to supporting any particular option. And knowing that so much of the outside spending that came into these races during the campaign was fundamentally about resisting taxation and some of those efforts and proposals, it's gonna be interesting to see what actually does wind up passing, if anything.

[00:33:58] Erica Barnett: Yeah, I - on that note, I will just say that a lot of candidates said that the City doesn't have a budget problem, it has a spending problem. And I think they're going to realize that the City actually does have a budget problem when they have to get in and actually deal with the budget. I don't think that - there's a lot of talk of, We're gonna audit the whole system and I wanna look at the whole budget. Well, good luck, that's not really possible. I mean, you have entire departments each with their own budget division - hashing out the budget, looking at the actual budget documents for any one department could be a job for a person for a year. So I think they're going to be, they're in for a bit of a rough awakening if they think that they can't raise any new revenues and that they can accomplish $250 million in budget reductions through cuts alone. So we'll see when that awakening takes place, but I think it will.

[00:34:58] Crystal Fincher: Oh, I absolutely think it will. It is certainly one thing to have catchy and simple slogans and taglines and soundbites when you're running for office, but governing is a serious thing. It is actually harder than running the campaign. So we will see how this progresses.

Now I also want to talk about this week - a couple of things when it does come to the potential raises for City workers - that they've been saying, Hey, it's really expensive to live in Seattle. We count on cost of living adjustments to help keep up, but even that is hard with inflation, the cost of living. We aren't making enough in the first place. We need more money. This is teeing up to become a major confrontation, really, with the mayor's office signaling that they're hesitant to give raises anywhere close to what workers are asking for. There may be labor actions taken. We will see what happens. But this week, one interesting thing came out in an email from the mayor's office. What did they send?

[00:36:16] Erica Barnett: So an email went out to most City employees this week. And what it said was - I think the subject line was "Financial Self-care," something related to that. And what it said was basically - if you are struggling with money, maybe you should look at your spending. And it gave some examples of things that you can do to sort of reduce your costs in your day-to-day life. And one was pay yourself first, which is this sort of very - I would say for a normal person - very unrealistic idea that before you pay your bills, you should put money in savings or in investments. And I think it's self-explanatory why most people can't do that. People living paycheck to paycheck need to keep the lights on, need to pay their rent. And then another suggestion was that people consider - when making purchases, whether something is a want or a need - which again, I mean, there's just something so condescending about that and so out of touch with the way normal people make spending decisions. And like, sure, like, do I make impulse buys? Does everybody sometimes? Yes. But the advice in this email - not to sort of waste your money on frivolous stuff - hits really poorly at a time when City employees are saying, Look, we're not asking for raises, we're asking for a cost of living adjustment to deal with the fact that inflation went up 8% last year and continues to rise. And what that means is a dollar buys less. So it's just - it was very, very, very poorly worded and poorly timed, considering that City employees are literally talking about striking right now. And so I just, I was sort of blown away by it.

And one of the reactions - it got a lot of reaction when I posted about this. And one of the most common reactions was - huh, this is interesting because Mayor Harrell is saying that we all need to work from the office at least three days a week as part of his downtown revitalization plan. And part of that plan is that we're gonna go out to eat at lunch, and we're gonna go out to get drinks after work. And I don't know - is that a want or need, Mayor Harrell? So it's - I think it hit really poorly with a lot of City employees. And I've gotten a lot of reaction from folks who received it, sort of saying - Thanks for pointing this out, this is ridiculous.

[00:38:54] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, absolutely. I've also seen a lot of reaction to that. When you're saying - Hey, help me, I'm struggling, and it's, you know, the cost of living, inflation is just unreasonable - it's hard to keep up with. And when the cost of rent is going up, and childcare is going up, and groceries are going up, and people are feeling this in every way - to have the person who does have the power and authority to say, You know what, we will ease this a little bit. We will grant your cost of living adjustment. We already know that you have shortages, and we're burning you out with the amount of work that we're placing on you and the amount that we're not paying you. So we're going to ease that burden and address some of these work shortages, some of these staff shortages in areas that are critical to delivering essential services for residents of Seattle. Seems like there's precedent for thinking that way - we've talked about financial solutions with the police department to help address retention and staffing. Seems like that should apply to other departments, but somehow it doesn't here. And just doesn't seem to be landing with people very well.

And just to be clear, right - it's not like financial education and financial planning tips are never warranted. But they are not an intervention or response to poverty. The problem with poverty is not poor people making bad decisions and that's why they're poor. It's that they don't have enough money. And wow, we just got a whole lot of new data on how effective giving people in poverty more money is, as opposed to all of these extra things that are not more money. If you want to reduce poverty, invest in the people who are experiencing it. And if we want a city that is resilient moving forward, if we want a city where we do take pride in paying people a living wage - meaning a wage where they can live in the city - we're gonna have to do better than this for City employees, certainly.

Now I also wanna talk about what the prospect is, and what the outlook is for this pay increase. And there was something that happens that maybe makes that cost of living adjustment look a little questionable. What was that?

[00:41:11] Erica Barnett: I believe you're talking about the firefighters' contract, which was sent to firefighters - members of the Fire Department - last week. And the votes on that are gonna be tallied soon. But basically what it said was the firefighters, if they vote on this, will agree to a sort of maximum annual wage increase of 4%, a minimum of 2%, which is quite a bit less than the other City workers were asking for, the Coalition of City Unions. And the sort of compromise or payback for that is that if inflation is above 4%, then the money that would be paid to workers getting an inflationary increase is gonna go into what's called a COLA bank. And so - like say inflation 6%, your wage increase is 4% - you get 2% in the COLA bank. If next year inflation is 1%, you can get some of that back. So your minimum increase will always be 2% for the life of the contract. So that's still 2% to 4%, which is not a whole lot of increase, particularly for workers whose pay has been falling further and further behind under their existing contract. But the thinking is that this could be sort of a foreshadowing of what Harrell is going to ultimately offer the rest of the city. So I think there's quite a bit of discontent around that. And again, there is talk of some sort of action. There have been practice pickets happening. And I don't have any special insight into whether the City workers would strike, but I know it's being discussed. They are not technically allowed to do that under their contract. So again, not sure what sort of action they're going to take, but I know that there is a lot of discontent with the idea of settling for a 2% to 4% wage increase at this point.

[00:43:16] Crystal Fincher: I wanna shift a little bit and really talk about a story that you broke - a couple weeks ago, I feel like it was - that we also saw reported at The Seattle Times as new this week. What is going on in the City of Burien right now?

[00:43:33] Erica Barnett: Oh man, the - well, I mean, just a very, very quick background - the City of Burien passed a ban on sleeping in public at night. And has meanwhile, been sort of pushing around this group of unsheltered people from place to place - And now has the legal authority to use the Sheriff's Office to do so. They have meanwhile, been sort of sitting on an offer of a million dollars from King County, which originally proposed sort of a land swap deal where a Pallet shelter could be built in downtown Burien. But of course the city rejected that, I think, primarily because it would be in sort of a visible location. They've been sort of hemming and hawing on what to do with this million dollars ever since. And we're talking about, I think that was over the summer - I believe in June or July - that they, it was in July, that they voted against using it for that shelter. And so now it's November and King County has said - Look, we have to use this money. Or you have to use this money or we're going to put it out for bid.

And so they have until November 27th to do that. The City Manager, Adolfo Bailon - apologies if I am mispronouncing his name - but he essentially sat on this information for a week and did not tell most of the council that this sort of deadline had come up until a week into the four weeks that they have to figure out a new location. So meanwhile, I think the council has one more meeting before this deadline passes. And my guess is they're not going to come up with a solution since they haven't done so so far. And this money is just going to go back into King County and then they'll put it out for bid for other South King County cities to use.

[00:45:45] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, I think - if people do want to catch up on what's happened, there has been no one following what's been happening in Burien with more rigor than you and PubliCola. So I would encourage people to catch up on what you have already covered. But just a little more context - this is happening with a very polarized council. There is a 4-3 moderate conservative council majority. The three members in the minority have been very vocally opposed to the way things have gone. This all kicked off because the county basically - they were trying to figure out how to deal with this as a city, were looking like they were going to embark on some illegal sweeps. The county executive's office basically said - Hey, looks like you're about to embark on illegal sweeps. Since you contract your police department through the Sheriff's department, we're just letting you know that the sheriffs cannot participate in an illegal sweep. This kicked off a lot of hemming and hawing by the council - ended up coming to what, I think, the county viewed as a reasonable compromise and offer for help that lots of cities would love to have. And they said - Okay, you're trying to deal with this. We'll help you with a million dollars, some Pallet shelters. You talked about the land swap deal - there's publicly owned land that is being leased to a car dealership, we'll accommodate for that. And basically you have land available to make this happen. We know you need more resources to adequately address this. We will help you with that. And the council majority basically refused to engage with that for a long time.

So the county finally has gotten around to saying - Okay, this isn't just an offer out there forever. We need to put this money to good use, so do you wanna take it? And the city manager in Burien initially said, Hey, I didn't even see it. I had no idea this was happening. Turns out he did, he actually responded to the email. But it has been quite a trial and tribulation there, and so we'll have to see what's gonna happen. But it does look like basically an effort to sabotage any attempt to do anything but criminalize homelessness, which just feels so out of joint from where most people are on this topic. Even people who feel that - hey, eventually sweeps are justified, almost uniformly feel like, but we need to do all we can to make sure that we do transition people into housing if possible, that offers of shelter are made, that we don't just move the problem from one place to another. City is not engaged with that at all. They seem perfectly satisfied to just sweep people from one place to another, as has been documented by the sweeps that they did of one location - seeing the people just move to another location. Homelessness is a problem about the lack of housing. If you aren't doing anything to provide housing, you aren't doing anything to solve homelessness, unless you feel the visibility of it, and not the people who actually don't have homes and are dealing with everything associated with that, which is just a very, very, very hard way to live. So we'll see what continues to happen. What are the prospects for them taking this up? Do they still have the option to ignore it?

[00:49:14] Erica Barnett: Well, do you mean taking up the offer for a million dollars? Well, I mean, certainly they have the option to ignore it. I mean, it will go away. I mean, I think that - I'm perhaps a little bit less charitable than you are in my assessment of what people want, just having watched all these meetings of people sort of screaming that these are - Seattle people are sending mobs of homeless people down to Burien and just this kind of very unrealistic, fantastical stuff that people say. But I think there's some magical thinking going on on the council as well. The city has just hired, just signed a contract - a no-bid contract - with a group called The More We Love that's run by one individual, a Kirkland mortgage broker named Kristine Moreland. And she has said that she has access to special resources that no one else does, and she can easily house and shelter people. And that it's just that all these other experienced homeless outreach providers have failed. And I think that is a fantastical notion because, as you said, there is not enough housing, there is not enough shelter. And generally what she does is put people into detox, which is a three to five day program that doesn't include any housing or treatment, or takes people to Seattle and puts them into Union Gospel Mission shelters. Those are two of the things that I am aware of her doing, neither of which is a solution. And one of which is just moving people out of Burien and into Seattle, which is not housing them. So I think that there's just, there's a lot of unrealistic thinking going on. And of course, there was an election in Burien as well. And two of the more progressive members will no longer be on the council next year - they've been replaced by people who agree more on this issue with the conservative council majority. So yeah, it's, you know, I don't expect the situation there to get any better on this issue, nor do I think that this new council is going to have more realistic notions of what's possible without additional resources.

[00:51:35] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, certainly the election results there were definitely a move in the other direction. We saw King County GOP endorsed candidates like Kevin Schilling handily winning his race there. Now, some of the opponents were pretty new, didn't have many resources, but can pretty much see a continuation and perhaps even an acceleration of these policies that are very punitive and hostile towards the unhoused population.

The last thing I wanna talk about today is an update on Sound Transit's fare enforcement policies and processes. We've talked about this before, you have covered this for quite some time. So now they're coming out with a new fare enforcement system. What are they going to do now?

[00:52:32] Erica Barnett: Well, as far as I can tell, the main difference - they're going to be enforcing fares and this has been covered in the past, but there will be more opportunities for people to get warnings and things like that - the initial fines will be lower. But the main difference is that the fare enforcement people are now called fare ambassadors and they are not in security uniforms, which Sound Transit is saying is a significant change. I mean, I guess it does make things feel different if you have a person who is not in a uniform, but an orange vest, checking your fare. But ultimately, I mean, that's the big substantive difference. They say that this is gonna be more equitable, they're gonna check everybody on the train, but as you mentioned, I've been covering this for a long time and for years, they've been saying that their process is completely equitable and that they - it is essentially impossible for them to discriminate against anybody or target anybody because of their race or perceived socioeconomic status because they start at both ends of the train and they move to the middle. And there was a slide that they showed so many times that I started kind of making fun of it on PubliCola because, you know, it was just this very, you know, sort of bored recitation at every council, or sorry, at every Sound Transit meeting where they would say - You know, we start at both ends of the train, we work our way to the middle, it's completely equitable. So, you know, they're saying this is gonna be completely equitable too. I don't think that it is possible to have an equitable fare enforcement policy because I think fare enforcement hits different people differently. And if you can't pay it, eventually, you could go to court and get a misdemeanor on your record. So fare enforcement inherently and fares inherently are not equitable. So we'll see how it plays out in practice, but once you start enforcing fares, you have instituted an inequitable process because poor people are less likely to be able to pay fares, more likely to get caught without having paid their fare, and then more likely to be unable to pay the fines that will eventually start accruing.

[00:54:50] Crystal Fincher: I have a major pet peeve - pet peeve is too minor a way to say it, but it probably comes through and I haven't overtly articulated it, but you know, in lots of things that I talk about - but people just taking action to take action, that is not a serious attempt to fix the problem that they say they're trying to fix. Whether I agree with what they're stating is a problem or their way that they're going about it - even if you take everything at face value, their solutions are not in any way adequate enough to address what they're saying is a problem. And so the momentum - we've heard Sound Transit board members talk about how important fare enforcement is - people are getting away with it and we need to collect these fares for our system. We - our budget depends on fare box recovery and if people aren't paying, then that's throwing our finances and our system into chaos. Which would make most people reasonably think - Okay, so if they're doing fare enforcement action and spending all of this money on these fare enforcement people, and instituting this basically entire administration dedicated to fare enforcement - one would think that the fines that they issue would be collected by Sound Transit. I was surprised to learn from your reporting before that that wasn't the case. And it seems like it still isn't the case under this new system, is that correct?

[00:56:24] Erica Barnett: My understanding is - yes, that the fines go to the, go into the administration, into the court system, but, you know, I am not 100%, I have not looked into this. So please don't, please do some fact checking on this for me, 'cause I - maybe you can look into it, Crystal - but I'm pretty sure that, yeah, the fines don't go to Sound Transit. I mean, I think like big picture, Sound Transit does have some financial problems. A lot of them are related to the fact that they continue to provide service that is suboptimal for a lot of people. A lot of times trains are stopped because of incidents, escalators very often don't work. And the trains are running a lot slower now, they're more crowded because there's not enough cars and they're not running as frequently. And so the service has really suffered. And so - number one, it's not a great product right now. It could be a great product again, but you're sort of instituting fare enforcement at a time when the product itself is suboptimal. And second, they're planning the next expansion of the light rail system and a lot of the stuff they're doing, you know, in particularly in South Lake Union, for example, to appease Amazon and other companies in that area is moving stations around and making big changes that are going to cost money. And then on the flip side, eliminating stations like the Midtown Station that have huge constituencies, like all the people on First Hill that got robbed of a station in Sound Transit 1 when they cut the station there. So you're sort of putting the squeeze on people who might be your riders in the future and moving things around to appease big companies. So I don't know - I think a lot of people are frustrated with Sound Transit right now and focusing on, Oh my God, it's those damn, you know, fare evaders, as they call people who don't pay, they're the problem - just feels really off point right now. And, you know, I mean, I'm sure you've ridden light rail. It's noticeably slower recently because people, the drivers for one - I mean, one reason for that is that the drivers are slowing down in the Rainier Valley to avoid hitting people because Sound Transit put the trains at grade in the first segment of light rail. So yeah, it's just - it's not a great look.

[00:59:05] Crystal Fincher: It's not a great look. And yes, I have ridden light rail recently. I've also ridden BART recently and LA Metro trains recently. And my goodness, is it just noticeable? If you know me, you've heard this rant, but Los Angeles, the car capital of the world, and Seattle actually started planning their light rail systems at the same time. And Seattle has wound up with a partial line that still has end points getting pushed off for decades, it seems like. And LA has built this vast network of multiple lines and everything in a city where it's not easy to get stuff done, where people have more of a connection to their cars, where it's harder to get around in other areas - so the lift of getting people to make that change seems heavier down there. And wow, we've just gotten bogged down in the Seattle process, it seems. But it seems like the main problem, what's underlying everything else, is that their - the people in charge of this system, the Sound Transit Board, are not regular transit riders. They don't seem to use the product that they're responsible for. And listening to them talk - most of them are, predominantly drive cars, they don't take transit often. And you can hear that in their comments, you can see that in how they are planning, or not planning, or the things that they're missing, as we progress here. So I certainly hope that we see more of a focus on appointing leaders to that board who understand the system and use it, and understand how important it is to their community and the relevance of their community, and how it needs to adapt to other communities. Yeah, it's really interesting. I'm thinking of a number of suburban leaders, whether it's Bothell or Covington - people wanting to improve the service, make it relevant for their community, but it is just been a big challenge.

With that, I thank you for listening to Hacks & Wonks on this Friday, November 17th, 2023. The producer of Hacks & Wonks is Shannon Cheng. Our insightful co-host today was Seattle political reporter and editor of PubliCola, Erica Barnett. You can find Erica on Twitter @ericacbarnett and on multiple platforms now - just search Erica and on PubliCola.com. You can follow Hacks & Wonks on Twitter @HacksWonks and soon you'll be able to follow it on other platforms. You can find me on most platforms as @finchfrii. You can catch Hacks & Wonks on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever else you get your podcasts - just type "Hacks and Wonks" into the search bar, be sure to subscribe and leave a review if you're able - to get the full versions of our Friday week-in-review shows and our Tuesday topical show delivered to your podcast feed. You can also get a full transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced in the show at officialhacksandwonks.com and in the podcast episode notes.

Thanks for tuning in - talk to you next time.