Seattle is Helping Baltimore Consider Racial Equity in Budget Decisions

By Andrew Kleine and Mira Green

On November 15, 2017, the City of Baltimore and the City of Seattle engaged in a peer exchange partnership project, supported by Results for America’s Local Government Fellowship program. Keep reading for the highlights of how it happened, the impact thus far, and additional resources to learn more.

The goals of the exchange project include:

  • Baltimore shares its Outcomes-Based Budget process with the City of Seattle
  • Seattle shares its Racial Equity Toolkit and its role in reviewing budget requests through a racial equity lens with the City of Baltimore

The desired outcomes of this exchange are:

  • Baltimore will advise and coach Seattle towards adopting outcomes-based budgeting practices
  • Seattle’s Racial and Social Justice Initiative (RSJI) will guide conversations around the role of budgeting in addressing racial inequities in Baltimore

Why is Baltimore focusing on racial equity?

  • In recent years, and especially since April 2015 following the death of Freddie Gray, activists in the City of Baltimore have increasingly called upon the City to address racial equity in City programs, including housing, economic development, law enforcement, food access, youth programs, and job training.
  • In November of 2016, Baltimore City voters approved a new Children and Youth Fund, which commits the City to additional funding for youth programs. The task force that was formed to make recommendations concerning the use of the Fund strongly urged City leaders to administer the funding through a racial equity framework, investing in black-led, grassroots organizations serving youth.
  • It is in this context that Baltimore hopes to use Seattle’s Racial and Social Justice Initiative (RSJI) Toolkit as a starting point to begin conversations about the role of municipal budgeting and policies in dismantling institutional racism in Baltimore.

What does Seattle do to consider racial equity in government operations?

  • In 2004, Seattle became the first city in the U.S. to establish a program to explicitly address institutional racism.
  • Seattle’s Toolkit lays out a process and set of questions to guide the development, implementation, and evaluation of policies, initiatives, programs, and budget issues to address the impacts on racial equity. The process requires six steps of analysis:

1) Setting Outcomes,

2) Involving Stakeholders and Analyzing Data,

3) Determining the Benefit and/or Burden,

4) Advancing Opportunity or Minimizing Harm,

5) Evaluating, Raising Racial Awareness, Being Accountable, and

6) Reporting Back.

  • Each department in the City of Seattle is required to use the Toolkit to analyze a minimum of four projects each year to guide policy, program, and budget decisions.
  • Seattle’s Change Teams are groups of employees who advocate for Race and Social Justice Initiative programs and facilitate and participate in discussions on race, racism, and strategies to overcome institutional barriers to racial and social equity.
  • Seattle’s Budget Office requires that departments to use the Racial Equity Toolkit to analyze every budget proposal. The Toolkit helps analyze the race and social justice impact of policy and program decisions, as well as unintended consequences. City managers have been trained to use the toolkit to review policies, programs and projects, resulting in hundreds of changes that are aimed at achieving racial equity.
  • Seattle City Council requires all City departments to report on the progress of their annual Race and Social Justice Initiative work plans.

What is the impact of Seattle’s racial equity work?

Some examples of the impact of Seattle’s Race and Social Justice Initiative include:

  • Seattle Public Utilities has reduced the requirement for a college education in positions where a college degree is not actually necessary, after the department analyzed the impacts of a college education requirement on workforce equity.
  • The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) developed social equity criteria to help prioritize transportation improvements. SDOT worked with Neighborhood District Councils to reach communities typically left out of the City’s Neighborhood Projects Fund process.
  • The Seattle Fire Department developed a Community Fire Safety Advocate (CFSA) program. Community advocates have conducted trainings on fire safety for Seattle’s East African communities in Amharic, Oromo, Tigrinya and Somali languages. The Department distributes translated safety materials throughout immigrant and refugee communities.
  • Racial equity has been built into the planning and implementation structure of Citywide initiatives such as the Seattle Youth and Families Initiative, the Seattle Jobs Plan, Engage Seattle, and Walk-Bike-Ride.

How will Baltimore use what it has learned from Seattle?

  • The Seattle Toolkit provides a launching point for Baltimore’s budget office team to begin discussing and more deeply understanding the impact of racial inequities in Baltimore and Maryland, and ideally begin to work across City agencies and community partners to align budget and fiscal policies with the desired outcome of eliminated racial inequities.
  • As a first step towards this end, Baltimore will be incorporating the Seattle Toolkit in a discussion about racial inequities in Baltimore and how city budgeting impacts these inequities at the Budget Office’s annual team budget retreat on December 8th.
  • Guided by the Toolkit, the Baltimore Budget Office will consider:

1. What racially equitable outcomes are most pressing in Baltimore?

2. Are there specific neighborhoods in Baltimore where racial inequities are . especially pronounced? Who are the most important stakeholders in those neighborhoods?

3. How can we engage community stakeholders in informing budget decisions that have an impact on racial equity?

4. How do specific current initiatives and policies in Baltimore increase or decrease racial equity?

5. Are there specific and actionable steps the Budget Office can take to address racial inequities in our office culture and processes?

6. What are the root causes of racial inequities in Baltimore?

7. How do we hold the City and community partners accountable for dismantling institutional racism?

Want to learn more?

Andrew Kleine is Baltimore Budget Director and former Results for America Local Government Fellow and Mira Green is Baltimore Senior Budget Management Analyst