Donald J. Trump will become President of the United States of America on January 20th, 2017. The only thing we can say for sure at this point is that no one knows what’s going to happen next. He may trigger another economic crisis, or collapse the federal government, or nuke North Korea, or reveal himself to be the Lizard King.
But assuming for the sake of argument that Trump means what he said during the campaign (insofar as the things he says have definite meaning), what’s the fallout for Seattle in the cold, hard numbers of the social construct we call money?
In late October, Trump promised to “cancel all federal funding to sanctuary cities”—that is, cities like Seattle that work to shield undocumented immigrants from federal deportation police. As The Seattle Times’ Dan Beekman reported, in 2003 Seattle passed an ordinance that essentially tells city employees not to look into the immigration status of anyone except suspected felons, though it also directs them to continue to “cooperate with, and not hinder, enforcement of federal immigration laws.” King County passed similar legislation in 2009. Unsurprisingly, sanctuary cities tend to be liberal bastions, meaning that while satisfying the anti-immigration sentiment of its base, the Trump administration has found a nominally non-partisan excuse to defund some of its political opponents. (Though as the Marshall Project reports, there are also a fair number of smaller, conservative sanctuary towns that limit cooperation with deportation police because they’re afraid of getting sued for wrongful detainment.)
At a Wednesday press conference, city leaders were adamant that Seattle remain a sanctuary city. Asked whether he was willing to sacrifice federal funding for that purpose, Mayor Ed Murray replied with a blunt affirmative. “We will continue to support our neighbors,” he said, federal cut-off or no. Councilmember M. Lorena Gonzalez, the child of undocumented immigrants, said this: “We will not back down in the face of deplorable immigration policy. … We will not stand by as families continue to be ripped apart.”
Mayor Ed Murray’s budget director Ben Noble and Seattle’s Office of Intergovernmental Relations are currently reviewing where, exactly, federal money can be found in the city budget to try and figure out how much Trump is talking about. “It’s all over the place,” says spokesperson Benton Strong, “from dedicated [funding] to grant money. … There’s still no way to know what’s at risk.” Usually a threat of lost funding from the feds is tied to a specific funding source, he says. “It’s hard to know what [Trump] means by ‘all.’”
If you use the city’s 2016 revised budget as a benchmark, part of what “all” appears to mean is a $37 million chunk of the city Human Services Department’s $144 million budget. That budget also lists $10 million in federal grant money as part of the city’s Transportation Master Plan. Additionally, our Department of Transportation was counting on a $75 million grant to pay for the Center City Streetcar, a $45 million grant to pay for the Lander Street bridge project, and smaller grants to pay for Madison Street Bus Rapid Transit. As we reported yesterday, the just-passed regional Sound Transit 3 plan assumes 13 percent of its budget, or $7 billion, will come from federal grants.
Such cuts would drastically reduce the city’s ability to serve its residents—and, as is always the case, the poorest among us will be insulated the least. An anti-alarmist caveat: it’s possible that for some reason Trump can’t or won’t institute all of those cuts. But by the same token, the cuts could potentially be worse. For instance, the Trump administration and Republican-controlled Congress could conceivably reduce funding, particularly research grants, to the University of Washington or other colleges.
Stay tuned and assume nothing. We’re on terra incognita now.