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Burgess, the Budget, and Double Edged Words

October 19, 2010

A few weeks ago Seattle City Councilmember Tim Burgess caused a stir at a meeting of Queen Anne residents with comments about the intentions of Mayor Mike MicGinn’s 2011 budget outline.

Burgess suggested McGinn’s proposal to cut funding for community centers in North Seattle as opposed to South Seattle, was quote, “a dare” end quote- to the city council.

To a lot of people, it sounded like Burgess was saying the Mayor is challenging the city council to restore funding to the north end in favor of making cuts in south Seattle instead, pinning more ‘well off’ communities against marginalized ones.

The racial gauntlet thrown down?

Not so fast, says Tim Burgess himself. Days later he took to his blog to say he was wrong for what he said, and wrong for dividing the city- something Burgess has accused they mayor of in the past.

The city council and the mayor have been in a public power struggle for months, most recently over the deep bore tunnel and the supplemental draft environmental impact study. By the way, anything that starts with supplemental and/or draft is not mission critical- but I digress.

McGinn wanted more time before signing off on the study. City councilmember Conlin stepped in and signed instead. The fall out was messy.

Now it’s the 2011 budget. I was at the Rainier Beach community center where the Mayor announced his budget proposal.  He does level cuts against community centers, predominately north of I-90.   But in contrast to how north Seattle communities are feeling about the proposed cuts, the mayor received a standing ovation when he announced $20 million dollars to rebuild the community center in Rainier Beach, which is slated to be torn down in December.

A rebuild is long overdue and an issue residents in the surrounding communities are passionate about.  Everyone was concerned about whether it would be rebuilt. When the mayor announced where he would give his budget speech- in south Seattle, at the community center- he sent a clear message: I have something for you, and it’s biiiiiig. After all, a smart politician doesn’t give a speech at the place he’s shutting down; he gives his speech at the place he’s saving.

Whether his intention was to challenge city council or not, the budget is now in their hands. And whether Burgess has back pedaled or not, they will have to decide what to do about the loud demands for restored funding.

Lest we forget, Seattle has a multi-million dollar budget deficit; there just isn’t enough money to go around.  Is it okay for the mayor to level cuts heavily against one end of the city but not the other?

There is still more than a month before the budget is finalized, and really, anything goes. Let’s just hope the mayor and city council can find a way to play nice in the process.

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