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Published on Monday, March 21, 2016

Clock ticking for legislators to wrap up work and not damage city interests

House and Senate budget negotiators continue discussions behind closed doors and may or may not have something for all legislators to consider by week’s end. The 30-day special session began on March 11 and must wrap by April 8. It remains to be seen whether legislators will reach an agreement on the supplemental operating budget and if it will harm city interests.

What’s holding things up?

  1. Whether or not to spend some of the “rainy day” or budget stabilization account funds on one-time emergencies;
  2. How to address other ongoing needs either through new revenues, diversion of existing ones, or some combination of both; and
  3. How to meet their statutory obligations to keep a four-year budget outlook balanced.

Both sides now appear to agree on spending some of the “rainy day” funds to pay bills from last season’s devastating wildfires. Senate Republicans have also proposed some new revenue by modifying state taxes on national broadcast television companies. Democrats haven’t publicly backed off their efforts to increase teacher pay and address other priorities.

Whichever way they end up coming to agreement on spending, the need to have a projected four-year balanced budget puts considerable pressure on tapping into existing programs to make the balance sheets work. For cities, it’s why loan repayments from Public Works Trust Fund loans are in jeopardy of being diverted to the general fund during the state’s 2017-19 biennium, rather than again being available for new loans. It’s also why there’s pressure to divert funds for things like the 80+ years of support for the Municipal Research and Services Center (MRSC), a highly-valued program funded with a portion of city and county liquor revenue.

Many cities have let legislators know their views on these and other proposed diversions, like eliminating support to help pay benefits to public safety personnel in the 44 cities with professional fire departments and pre-LEOFF retirees.

If you haven’t already shared your views with your legislators, it’s not too late, and it may help them key in on solutions to get them home again.