Seattle Budget – Always Be Asking Questions!

Last night I (perhaps foolishly) stayed up late semi-manually extracting data from PDFs to create a single master spreadsheet with the kind of data and calculations I have on these the previous posts. The takeaway graph is of course the one for each total department in per capita 2017 dollars:

Graph of per capita 2017 $

Random comments and things I might want to look at:

  • “Administration” goes from $480.16 in 2005 to $1,293.29 in 2017.
    • That seems huge! However, a big chunk of that is “Personnel Compensation Trust Subfunds” ($277.29 in 2007, $342.81 in 2017). This doesn’t seem to exist anywhere before but maybe it was rolled into all departments as it is the program to a manage employee insurance costs (health, etc.)
    • The centralization of the computer services is really, really apparent but the totals don’t make sense to me. In 2005, IT was $78.42 per capita. Of course, computers and the internet are far more important now, so the year before re-organization (2015) it was $124.04. After the re-org 2017, IT is suddenly $343.93. There don’t seem to be corresponding (even partial) decreases in other city departments. Maybe the IT budget still makes sense, but it looks problematic (in 2017 real dollars, not per capita, the IT department is $245 million so while it’s not a huge part of the budget, it’s about what the 2017 budget for housing and human services which was about $256 million).
    • The finance, fleet and facilities stuff has re-jiggered over the years so it’s hard to see what’s changing, but the three older departments were $262.80 in 2005 vs $478.90. But this includes real property (“fleets and facilities” rolled into “finance and administration services” in 2011) so there could be some interesting things going on in there to dig into.
  • We really did stop putting money into our rainy day fund. It’s obvious when you scroll along the rows in “Funds, Subfunds and Other”.
  • The federal sequestration is really obvious in the sub-items in the Health & Human Services department. Seeing the Community Development Block Grant just go to zero is sad. If you’ve never heard that phrase, it’s a big way the federal government helps build affordable housing and other community support infrastructure.
  • Public safety expenses have gone up in real terms (about 6.5%) from $856.43 per capita 2017$ in 2005 to $912.32 in 2017 (or $651 million in 2017 dollars total).
    • The increase is entirely possibly reasonable, but it is frustrating when contrasted with how we talk about money for other purposes, like supporting low income and homeless people. One of the rallying cries of head tax opposition is that the money spent on homelessness is increasing, unaccountable and hasn’t been effective. But, the data I’m looking at suggests it’s only gone up since 2016 (in real terms) which is far too short a time to demand clear results. Further, of course, what we spend directly on trying to help people without homes is about a quarter what we spend on police & fire & the courts (no, I do not consider police time “sweeping” or harassing people without homes to be spending on homelessness services; I consider that a moral failure.).
    • Why do we sometimes pay out for the Municipal Jail in some years but not in most?? What line item is this money counted on in the years where it’s zero?
  • The Utilities & Transportation budget is what makes Seattle’s budget always look eye-poppingly huge. In 2017, about $2.9 billion of the the total about $5.4 billon budget were in this category.
    • On per capita, inflation adjusted terms, Seattle City Light is flat. Seattle Public Utilities (water, sewer, trash) is not going from $1,255.99 to $1,533.08 or 22%. I guess I’ll have to dig into why! There’s probably a good reason.
    • Transportation has gone up about 100% but given all the huge projects since 2005, I find this unsurprising.

That’s probably enough shallow musings for now. As noted in previous posts, this isn’t some kind of expert analysis. This is me doing what seems obvious to give a rough understanding of how we spend money in Seattle and trying to avoid being shocked just by large numbers and try to focus on changes and relative distributions. Enjoy! I’m sure I’ll be back for more. 🙂