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Cities ask State Legislature to preserve a strong partnership and support local priorities

Olympia – The legislative session is expected to be lengthy and difficult, and city officials fear it could leave them less able to do their jobs. As pressure builds for the Legislature to comprehensively tackle K-12 school funding, they will scour every line item in the budget and that could mean programs and revenues cities have relied on for decades are at risk.

“Our challenge is to help legislators and the Governor recognize that our state’s success depends on the success of cities and towns,” said Association of Washington Cities (AWC) President Jim Restucci, Mayor of Sunnyside. He went on to share that 4.7 million Washington residents live in cities and 69 percent of job generating businesses are located in cities.

Over the last six months, more than 50 mayors, councilmembers, and staff representing Washington’s 281 cities and towns participated on AWC’s Legislative Priorities Committee. The committee recommends priority issues to the 25-member AWC Board of Directors to address during the legislative session. Cities’ five asks of the state are:

  • Public records: Modernize the Public Records Act so that cities can continue to provide open and transparent government services to our residents.
  • Homelessness, housing & human services: Enhance efforts to increase affordable housing, decrease homelessness, and improve a strained behavioral health system.
  • Local infrastructure: Revitalize key infrastructure assistance programs that support job creation, health and safety, and quality of life.
  • Local authority: Respect city authority to respond to local needs.
  • City-state partnership: Maintain critical funding of key services and programs.

“Over the last few biennia, the state has balanced its budget at the expense of cities,” said Peter B. King, AWC Chief Executive Officer. “While we understand the fiscal challenges the Legislature faces, we cannot accept that sweeping critical funds from their intended uses is in the best interest of our shared constituents.”

King referenced the Legislature’s diversion of over a billion dollars from dedicated infrastructure assistance accounts and hundreds of millions of local liquor revenue. Since 2009, these funds have been transferred to the state’s operating budget. Additional revenues that cities rely on for public safety could be on the table this session as legislators struggle to fund K-12 education.

Dave Williams, AWC Government Relations Director, said state revenues distributed to cities are driven by decades of decisions and agreements that cities deliver vital services to Washingtonians. Past agreements are being abandoned by the Legislature without new solutions or giving mayors and councilmembers new local authority. Recent diversions of shared revenues have not, unfortunately, been accompanied by reduced responsibilities or greater flexibility.

“Given state and local fiscal conditions, new mandates that add costs and responsibilities are unacceptable unless new and sufficient resources accompany such mandates,” stated Williams.

City officials are also asking the Legislature to make changes to modernize the Public Records Act. During the interim, a task force representing all interested parties convened to look more closely at this issue to discuss challenges and look for solutions.

“Every day, city officials ensure transparency and serve as stewards of public resources by effectively implementing the Public Records Act,” said King. “It’s time the 40-year-old law is updated to reflect 21st century realities so we can uphold our responsibility to protect the public’s privacy and ensure efficient use of taxpayer dollars.”

Together with counties and nonprofit partners, city officials are also supporting efforts to develop new strategies that address the issues plaguing human service, homeless support, and affordable housing systems. While cities are not direct providers of these services, they are on the front lines of the homelessness and affordable housing crisis.

King and Williams said that during a recent tour of the state they visited with hundreds of officials from large and small, urban and rural cities. Many city officials spoke of the challenges meeting the needs of a growing homeless population and lack of affordable housing.

“This crisis is right on our doorstep,” said Williams. “People are going to point fingers and ask whose problem is this? Well, it’s everyone’s problem and it must be addressed this session.”

For more on AWC’s five city priorities and corresponding issue briefs, visit awcnet.org.

AWC serves its members through advocacy, education and services. Founded in 1933, AWC is a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan corporation that represents Washington's cities and towns before the state legislature, the state executive branch, and with regulatory agencies. AWC also provides training, data and publications, and Member Pooling Programs such as the AWC Employee Benefit Trust, AWC Risk Management Service Agency, AWC Workers’ Comp Retro, and the AWC Drug and Alcohol Consortium.

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Media contact:
Alicia Seegers Martinelli
Communications Director
aliciam@awcnet.org
(360) 753-4137

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