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Published on Friday, June 17, 2016

Preparations for the 2017 legislative session

Even as summer arrives, there is more going on in preparation for the start of the 2017 legislative session on January 10 than you might think. When legislators return and statewide office holders settle in, there will be much at stake for cities large and small – such as state-shared revenues, programs that help or hinder maintaining our infrastructure, and allowing cities to make choices to keep their communities safe, strong and vibrant. Check out some "snapshots" of what’s in play.

State revenues are on the rise, but that doesn’t mean there’s enough to go around – An updated state revenue forecast was released last week and projected there will be just over $300 million more coming in by next June than originally forecast. Modest growth in our economy is projected, and a strong real estate market and continued consumer spending plays a large part in that. However, when looking at an overall state general fund budget of more than $38 billion, this small uptick doesn’t come close to meeting demands.

Also last week the state’s budget director informed state agencies preparing budget requests for the 2017-19 Operating and Capital budgets to essentially ask for no more than they currently get, and to focus on ways to save and stretch those resources. In his letter dated June 10, the budget director noted that both state agencies and their local partners (that includes cities) “should otherwise expect to manage within current projected state resources. Competition for available resources will be intense.”

Legislators continue to grapple with K-12 funding – A bipartisan Joint Education Funding Task Force continues to meet in attempt to find common ground to address the McCleary K-12 funding gap that has been front and center the last several years. While continuing to be held in contempt by the state Supreme Court, legislators are trying to find ways to raise or reallocate somewhere around $3.5 billion to adequately fund teacher salaries. We’re following their conversations closely. New revenue options for them can help or hinder cities, and if they start toying with state property taxes, it could get very complicated and dicey.

Legislative and statewide candidates are out and about and it’s a great time to catch them – Just over 300 people have filed for 98 House seats and 26 of the 49 Senate seats. Competitive races for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, State Auditor, Attorney General, and others are also in play, along with U.S. Senator Patty Murray and all 10 U.S. Congressional seats. The August 2 primary will narrow competitive races to the top two – regardless of party affiliation.

AWC conducted a legislative candidate questionnaire and received over 100 responses. They’re posted online here for your information. We thanked all candidates who responded, and for those who haven’t, there’s a great opportunity for you to engage them around town and to use the blank questionnaire on our website to have a conversation. More than likely, they’ll answer questions if asked in person.

Numerous task forces and working groups are delving in to city issues – AWC is actively engaged on your behalf in a wide variety of these efforts, many of which have reports or recommendations due to the next Legislature by year’s end. Among them are those dealing with the use of deadly force in community policing, ways to centralize and simplify administration of city business licenses and B&O taxes (see a separate article on this topic), evaluating ways to unify databases of rail crossings to identify those most in need of improvements to address safety and traffic congestion, and evaluating a potential merger of the LEOFF 1 and teachers’ pension systems. We’re also involved in discussions about allocation of new federal transportation dollars (again see a separate article on this topic), ways to re-engage the state to help fund key local infrastructure, address lingering public records requests issues, removal of fish passage barriers, and the list goes on.

Fourth edition of AWC’s Strong Cities Pocket Guide about to be released – This next edition is at the printer and will be distributed shortly. This pocket-sized resource is full of new and time-tested ideas on how to work with legislators, media, and your community to help make and keep your city strong.

Gearing up to hear more what you care about – As you read this, we’re joining over 500 city officials in Everett for AWC’s Annual Conference. We’ll be listening to what they care about and how we can help them. We’re asking our Board of Directors for some direction on a range of topics and will be gearing up for the first meeting of an updated AWC Legislative Committee. The Committee’s job will be to share their views of what’s needed and help us prepare to go back to our Board in late September where they’ll adopt legislative priorities for the 2017 session. After that, we’ll be hitting the road and traveling around the state to hear from you and talk about how to keep cities strong.

More to come and happy summer!