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Published on Friday, December 18, 2015

Will what matters to cities matter in Olympia?

Legislators return to Olympia on January 11 for what many predict will be a short 60-day session. They’ll likely continue working on McCleary K-12 funding issues and may attempt to impeach the state auditor. Additionally, due to concerns that projected new revenues won’t fully meet current state fiscal obligations, there appears to be a need to make cuts or fill holes to the biennial budget adopted during last year’s historically long session. If cuts are envisioned, AWC will let you know and we’ll be on guard to protect liquor, marijuana, and other funds needed to help cities stay strong.

Whether or not legislators have the interest and energy to deal with much else beyond those items remains to be seen. It’s going to be an election year with high-stakes ballot races from top to bottom. Control of the Governor’s mansion and an almost evenly split partisan Legislature are on the line, and there will likely be ballot issues on taxes and climate change. In such a busy political environment, addressing issues that are controversial or don’t have bipartisan support will be difficult.

AWC spent the last several months speaking and visiting with hundreds of city officials across the state. We shared AWC Board adopted 2016 Legislative Priorities and listened to important issues from officials within well over 100 cities of all shapes and sizes. In addition to protecting current local authorities and opposing new unfunded mandates, they affirmed and we’ll advocate for:

  • No further cuts to revenues generated in cities and shared back with them, and we must continue to make the case to share more, rather than divert revenues to other state needs;
  • Maintaining, updating, and expanding city infrastructure is key to local and statewide economic health and prosperity. The costs of doing this can’t be left solely to city dwellers. AWC and others need to keep asking for a recommitment to funding assistance through things like the Public Works Trust Fund, Centennial Clean Water Fund, and Model Toxics Control Act;
  • Cities will continue to ask for adjustments to the Public Records Act to address changing technology as well as changing trends in record requests. Cities remain committed to being open and transparent and want to see the act continue to evolve to keep pace with these changes. Many local governments are struggling to deal with a growing number of unspecific or harassing requests that require diversion of resources necessitating an even greater need for changes to the act;
  • More help and collaborative efforts are needed to address the noticeable and alarming increases in homelessness, increasing human services needs, and affordable housing shortages within cities of all sizes across the state. We need to strengthen programs and partnerships to help our most vulnerable neighbors; and
  • Better tools to prepare for and respond to emergencies like the wildfires that have devastated parts of Washington over the past 2 years. In addition to funding assistance and enhanced coordination, the authority to ban fireworks during emergency conditions is needed.

While sharing these messages, we’ve appreciated the heightened awareness and commitment from city officials on the importance of affirming these same messages at home with local legislators and others. That same communication needs to continue once they return to Olympia which can be done in a variety of ways from phone chats to in-person visits. One of the best ways to get involved is to attend and participate in AWC’s City Action Days on January 27-28, where you’ll get a front row chance to hear from key players and spend time on the Capitol Campus.

Over the next several months, we’ll work to keep you informed and will ask you to stay connected to your legislators. If they don’t know what you need and want, they can’t help your city. If they’re not helping you even after you ask, you need to ask again.

Finally, thanks for everyone’s help in making strides during the 2015 session that have made cities and our state stronger. Wishing you all Happy Holidays and a wonderful New Year!