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Published on Friday, March 1, 2013

The bumpy road ahead

Your involvement in legislative activities during the first half of this session has made a big difference. Many of the policy bills of importance to cities survived last week’s deadline and will continue to be considered in the weeks ahead. This “funneling” process means we now can focus on those bills left standing and not have to be on constant alert about new ones being introduced. But, that also means that final negotiations on language, amendments, and compromises will continue to dominate our lobbying activities and will be occurring fast and furiously on many fronts.

The focus is also moving into the budget part of session. Yesterday’s State Supreme Court decision on the two-thirds supermajority needed to raise taxes threw a new twist into this year’s budget discussions. Some legislators are turning their focus to a constitutional amendment to address the issue, while others are contemplating what this might mean for the prospect of raising taxes. Underlying these new discussions is the very real budget deficit that will require at least $1 billion in budget cuts and/or additional revenue in order to maintain current funding levels. In addition, the Legislature is under a court order to better fund K-12 education – at a cost of $1.4 billion according to House Democrats.

That means that programs of great importance to cities – including liquor revenues, grant and loan programs, and infrastructure monies – are in SERIOUS jeopardy as legislators and the Governor grapple to make ends meet. We’re facing the possibility of unprecedented reductions to nearly all state-funded programs. And these discussions are occurring in the midst of very diverse political agendas during a session that is among the more contentious that I’ve ever seen.

When contemplating how this all gets figured out, it’s clear that legislators need to roll up their sleeves and decide by majority vote how to balance interests and their budget. It’s our job to help them do so without undercutting the longstanding and important partnership between state and local government in serving our citizens and communities.

You play a critical role in that process and you can expect we’ll be calling on you to respond quickly in the weeks ahead when proposals start flying. We’ll be asking for your input, drawing on your expertise, and seeking your direct communication with legislators. We know that it’s your voices and stories from “back home” that will determine our level of success. Hang on – we’re expecting a bumpy ride.