The election of Donald Trump as president, and control of all three branches of government by radical Republicans, will drastically impact the numerous urgent social and political crises brought about by Seattle’s unprecedented economic growth.
The city’s rapid population growth and the wealth of its newer residents have led to far greater income inequality, especially for people of color; interrelated crises of scarce affordable housing and homelessness; and the exodus of people who can no longer afford to live here to distant exurbs and the suburbs beyond.
At least three actions, expected early in Trump's Republican-controlled Congress, 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 our cash-strapped state, whose legislature has already been in contempt of court for years for failing to adequately fund K-12 education, will either need to find the money to fund Washington Apple Health itself or face the prospect of several hundred thousand Washingtonians, many in the Puget Sound region, suddenly having no health insurance.
Two other factors compound that crisis. Washington is also likely to lose significant education funding under Trump, who has endorsed calls to abolish the Department of Education entirely. That will throw the state's education funding into even greater disarray. Republicans also retained control of the state Senate in Olympia, enabling them to block almost any state revenue increases — let alone desperately needed structural reforms to our state's antiquated and uniquely regressive tax system, which has left state budgets in chronic disarray despite the Puget Sound region's prosperity.
2) Unprecedented federal tax cuts: Trump's tax cut plan is at least three times bigger than the 2001 Bush cuts that almost immediately devoured the previously built up federal surplus. Trump's plan skews heavily toward reducing taxes on the extremely rich. That 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.
3) Housing and Social Services cuts: The most commonly mentioned names for Trump's Secretary of Health and Human Services are: Florida Gov. Rick Scott, former U.S. Rep. Newt Gingrich, and the apparent leading candidate, Dr. Ben Carson. None of these people have expertise in administering health or human services. 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 a priority. Just about every social service nonprofit benefits from the federal government at some point in its operation. They'll be reeling in the new regime, too.
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, less likely to support the kinds of liberal social legislation, especially for the most vulnerable among us, that has been championed by the current City Council.
That demographic trend will amplify the federal budget buzzsaw. For example, Mayor Murray's homelessness program, which de-emphasizes 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 Environmental Protection Agency 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, is 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 during economic uncertainty. And the city is constrained, just like the state, by limited taxing options and 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 usually the first ones sacrificed. Advocates for human needs programs had better get busy.
Against all this, there's one piece of good news: likely incoming Attorney General Rudy Giuliani won't care much about any future Department of Justice monitoring of the Seattle Police Department.
So there's that.