Seattle’s Challenges Under Trump

The election of Donald Trump as president, and control of all three branches of government by radical Republicans, will drastically impact what are already a surprising number of urgent social and political crises for a city experiencing such unprecedented economic growth.

That growth, as the Census Bureau has reported, has included both rapid population growth and the enormous relative wealth of Seattle’s new residents. That, in turn, has led to far greater income inequality, especially for people of color; interrelated crises of lack of affordable housing and homelessness; and an exodus, to distant suburbs and beyond, of people who can no longer afford to live in the city of Seattle itself.

At least three actions, expected to happen early in a Congress under Donald Trump, will make all this far worse:

1) Repeal of ObamaCare: The likeliest scenario is that the Affordable Care Act won’t be “fixed” – it will simply be abolished, replaced by nothing. That means that a cash-strapped state, whose legislature is already in contempt of the state supreme court for failing to adequately fund K-12 education, will either need to find the money to fund AppleCare on its own or face the prospect of several hundred thousand Washingtonians, many in the Puget Sound region, suddenly having no health insurance.

Two other factors will compound that crisis. The first is that the state is likely to lose a lot of education funding under Trump, who has endorsed far right plans to abolish the Department of Education entirely. That will throw the state’s education funding into even greater disarray. At the same time, Republicans also retained control of the state senate in Olympia, meaning they will be likely to block almost any state revenue increases – let alone the desperately needed structural reforms to our state’s antiquated and uniquely regressive tax system, a system that has left state budgets in chronic disarray despite the Puget Sound region’s prosperity. For at least the next two years, any such reforms would need to come though the initiative process. Even if such a measure were to be passed by Washington voters – voters even more likely to be tax-averse once Trump controls the economy – it couldn’t be implemented quickly enough to help alleviate the loss of federal funds
2) Unprecedented federal tax cuts: Trump’s tax cut plan is at least three times bigger than the 2001 George W. Bush cuts that almost immediately devoured the federal surplus built up under Bill Clinton. Not surprisingly, the Trump plan skews heavily toward reducing taxes on the extremely rich – it would blow a gaping hole in the federal budget while providing little or no consumer spending stimulus to the economy, increasing the likelihood of an economic downturn. Washington’s tax system, with its reliance on sales taxes and no income tax, is especially vulnerable to such downturns – compounding state and city budget problems.

And the same ideologues who’ve forced multiple federal budget crises over their opposition to raising the debt ceiling or paying existing debts now control both Congress and the White House. A completely gratuitous economic depression is always a possibility.

3) Housing and Social Services cuts: The most commonly mentioned names for Trump’s Secretary of Health and Human Services are all men with histories of dubious ethics: Florida Gov. Rick Scott, former Rep. Newt Gingrich, and, most often mentioned of late, Christian con man Dr. Ben Carson. None of them have expertise in administering health or human services, but all are committed budget warriors ideologically opposed to a social safety net. It’s safe to expect that federal funding for programs like, for example, Section 8 housing vouchers will be cut harshly or entirely eliminated. Privatization of Social Security and Medicare will be on the table as a priority. Just about any nonprofit that gets United Way funding benefits from the federal government at some point in its operation, and they’ll all be reeling in the new regime.

The Impact in Seattle

I wrote last month about Seattle’s closing progressive window, and how its new, more prosperous residents are, by sheer demographics, far less likely to support the kinds of liberal social legislation, especially for the most vulnerable among us, that has been championed by the current council.

That demographic trend will amplify the federal budget buzzsaw. For example, Mayor Murray’s homelessness program, which deemphasizes shelters in favor of temporary market vouchers in part to appeal to federal funding guidelines, may now see that federal funding disappear entirely anyway – at the same time homelessness continues to explode and the local political backlash against the homeless increases. Trump’s climate change denial, emphasis on fossil fuels, and on-again, off-again vow to abolish the EPA entirely mean that funding for both the state Department of Ecology and a host of city programs, from cleaner watersheds to cleaner energy, will be in jeopardy. And so on, throughout every city department.

In addressing such problems, the city, like the state, will be cash-poor even in its opulence. The city’s insistence on shouldering many of the financial burdens caused by hyper-development won’t likely change in the face of economic uncertainty, and the city is constrained, just like the state, by limited taxing options as well as a full plate of bonding obligations. At the same time, Seattle’s newer, wealthier voting base is less likely to support more radical measures to fund what will surely be a staggering human need. The city will need to make hard choices. Without concerted public pressure, in such situations the most vulnerable are almost always the first ones sacrificed. Advocates for human needs programs better get busy.

One piece of good news, sort of: Trump’s new Attorney General, expected to be Rudy Giuliani, likely won’t care much about any future Department of Justice monitoring of the Seattle Police Department.

So there’s that.

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