Spokane proposes moving to biennial budget

Spokane proposes moving to biennial budget

(The Center Square) – Spokane is considering shifting its budget approach to a two-year model after Mayor Lisa Brown announced a proposal Thursday that would begin the biennial process next year.

The proposed change coincides with a roughly $50 million structural deficit that Brown has emphasized as one of his key priorities since taking office in January of this year.

Under a biennial model, Spokane’s Finance Department would chart city spending over two years rather than proposing an annual budget. In his announcement, Brown said this step is one of many to restore the city’s financial health.

“Transparency and accountability are at the center of our new budget structure,” Brown said. “A biennial budget allows more time for public review and comment, which will improve community engagement.”

The move could allow the city to focus on long-term planning by strategically balancing its resources over the biennial cycle; Additionally, Brown said the process creates longer investment-based projections and removes an administrative burden from city staff.

“The biennial budget enables better decision-making and provides greater financial accountability, which will help restore fiscal stability and achieve long-term financial sustainability,” Matt Boston, the city’s chief financial officer, said in a news release. .

Opponents of the biennial budget say the process limits opportunities to adjust for annual fluctuations; However, Councilman Michael Cathcart said that is not an issue in this case.

Part of the goal of a biennial budget is to look into the future to ensure it is balanced over the long term, but Cathcart said there are still checkpoints along the way.

“As I understand it, we are not going to get rid of the mid-year reviews or the quarterly (special budget ordinance) system,” he said. “We can even do a full supplemental budget next year if we really think it’s necessary.”

Cathcart, chair of the Finance and Administration Committee, has advocated for a shift toward a biennial budget structure for the past few years. Having previously worked in the state Legislature, he saw firsthand how the model forces people to plan for the long term.

Last year, Cathcart attempted to push an ordinance that could have led Spokane to adopt the biennial process, according to The Spokesman-Review; but the rejection of the previous administration changed its course.

Cathcart said he met with the new administration earlier this year to discuss moving toward a biennial model, which is one of the reasons he was stunned to hear Brown’s announcement Thursday.


Despite Cathcart’s years of advocating for a change in budget days and meetings, he said the Brown administration did not collaborate with him on the initiative outside of grassroots conversations.

“They say if you can’t beat them, collaborate with them, and if collaboration isn’t your style, just rename their ideas as your own,” Cathcart said. “At the end of the day, I’m glad to see the mayor finally agreeing with the budget option I’ve been advocating for. I mean, I guess the only real credit I need is that we come up with a priority budget that is balanced and sustainable.”