Disputes over funding levels between Mayor Mike Johnston and the City Council were resolved in November with a compromise for rental assistance and increased funding for transportation improvements.
The disagreement over rental assistance began in October. The initial budget provided $12.6 million for rental assistance, but the council asked the mayor to add $17.5 million more while citing that Denver’s soaring evictions set a new record this year and are projected to keep growing in 2024.
When the mayor countered with only an additional $3 million, the council expressed outrage and passed an amendment to add $14.8 million for rental assistance. Achieving a supermajority was pivotal, as getting nine votes provided the council with the power to override a potential veto from the mayor and pass the full amendment on its own.
Reaching the supermajority was difficult for the councilmembers. “Most of us agreed that rental assistance was important, but there were disagreements about where the dollars would come from,” says Councilwoman Shontel Lewis, who co-sponsored the amendment and who represents much of Northeast Denver. “Some folks had hard lines about not cutting from certain areas, and so we had to negotiate to find out what cuts everyone would accept.”
The City Council was able to form a supermajority, and this prompted the Mayor’s Office to propose a compromise. The mayor offered $13.5 million in additional funding, the council approved this new amendment, and the funding for rental assistance increased to $29.1 million.
Another funding dispute involved transportation improvements. With Denver on pace to set a record for most traffic deaths in a single year, the council submitted amendments to increase transportation funding. Councilwoman Lewis sponsored an amendment to add $550,000 for the Vision Zero program that strives to eliminate all traffic deaths.
“Funding Vision Zero can help us keep using old tactics that were working while researching new strategies that could work,” explains Lewis. “We can learn from experts about what options are effective, and we can hear from residents about what changes would make their streets safer.”
This issue was resolved amicably. The mayor approved the amendment from Lewis, granted the funding for Vision Zero, and accepted another amendment for the Safe Routes to School program.
With these disputes settled, the council passed the budget, which totaled $4 billion. The two-month process demonstrated a shift in political dynamics, as the City Council added far more funding to the budget than in previous years and banded together to form supermajorities on many issues.