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Published on Friday, October 16, 2015

AWC Board sets 2016 city legislative priorities – What are they and how might they fare?

When legislators return to Olympia on January 11, 2016 for the start of their scheduled 60-day session, will they be open and ready to tackle issues like AWC’s priorities? Or, as some suspect, will they continue to focus on and debate K-12 funding needs and focus on little else?

AWC’s Board of Directors considered the likelihood that legislators will continue to focus their attention on K-12 education when reviewing recommended 2016 priorities. These priorities were sent to the Board from our Legislative Priorities Committee. With eyes wide open, the five priorities adopted put key city issues front and center, with the idea that we can’t (and shouldn’t) refrain from asking the Legislature to consider what’s needed to help make cities strong.

The five adopted priorities are:

Infrastructure – While we applaud last year’s passage of the transportation package and the help it provides in many communities, cities are facing real problems maintaining water and wastewater systems, streets and bridges, and other critical infrastructure. City infrastructure systems are a critical part of a larger network that serves and benefits the entire state. Diversion from programs that support basic local infrastructure means that communities cannot affordably maintain and secure new infrastructure. We need to reboot, and potentially reformulate this partnership. The state’s abandonment of these programs cannot be the only option.

Fiscal sustainability – The current method of funding city services is fundamentally broken. Many available revenue options are either constricted, restricted, or unpredictable. Cities need stable revenue streams to provide essential services such as public safety, infrastructure, and environmental protection to our growing population.

Emergency responsiveness – As a result of recent experiences with devastating wildfires, landslides, and other emergencies, cities need better ways to address emergency management. Examples include greater ability to coordinate response and enhance communication in emergencies, and the authority to ban fireworks sales and use during dangerous conditions.

Public records – Cities support open and transparent government and continue to seek the best ways to meet this commitment. Unfortunately, there are a growing number of requestors who monopolize resources with broad, voluminous, commercially driven, or retaliatory requests that do not provide a public benefit proportionate to the taxpayer dollars needed to fulfill these requests. Cities need additional tools to resolve conflicts outside the courtroom and the authority to charge a reasonable fee for electronic and commercial requests. We also need to address the impact changing technology has on public records.

Human services, homelessness, and affordable housing – Cities believe that investment in the state’s human services network is necessary. Greater access to mental health and substance abuse services is essential. Cities throughout the state are grappling with affordable housing shortages and homelessness. Together with the state, counties, and other partners, we need to develop strategies to address housing shortages and homelessness in cities of all sizes and locations.

None of these priorities will be easy to resolve and most will take time beyond the 2016 session. We’ve begun visits around the state to talk with cities and others interested in these issues. We’re also sifting and sorting through a host of other issues that city officials tell us are of interest to them. Our Legislative Priorities Committee is meeting again in mid-November to consider recommendations on what to do with these other issues, and the AWC Board will evaluate those ideas at their December meeting.

You can participate, help and engage by:

  • Talking with your legislators about any or all of the AWC priorities listed above and described more fully here, or several background informative fact sheets from our Regional Meeting packets.
  • Discussing and adopting your own city’s legislative agenda and making sure your citizens, businesses and legislators know what’s on it. Please share a copy with AWC and if you need ideas, sample copies of what several cities adopted in 2014 can be found here.