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Published on Friday, January 10, 2014

The 2014 Session: Hold steady and get ready for 2015 – what’s at stake for cities?

At a press briefing on January 9, Governor Inslee used the phrase “hold steady, get ready” to characterize his view that the upcoming legislative session is one during where not much is likely to happen. A panel of legislative leaders earlier the same day told the media much the same thing.

Why is that and what does it mean for cities and the AWC Action Agenda?

Budget math

Every two years, legislators debate and set a two-year budget. Those sessions, in odd-numbered years, last at least 105 days. In even numbered years, the legislature meets for 60-day sessions, primarily focused on making budget adjustments if revenue projections were too high or low. Unlike most years of late, this year legislators aren’t facing the task of cutting programs or services because of declining or insufficient revenue. Instead, there’s enough projected revenue to fund what they agreed to last year. In fact, there’s a small projected surplus and the debate will be whether to sprinkle it around or save it for another rainy day.

The Governor proposed some modest spending increases and House Speaker Frank Chopp would like to explore some as well. Majority Coalition leadership in the Senate seems less-inclined to adjust current spending levels. All leaders and the Governor share the belief that fiscal prudence is necessary if for no other reason than in 2015, there’s another large $1 billion plus investment needed in K-12 Education as ordered by our state Supreme Court. As such, other than some technical fixes to last year’s budget agreement, there may be little, if any, change.

November 2014 elections

During any session before an election cycle, political posturing and nice or not-so-nice finger pointing occurs. This session should follow suit, since in less than a year, all 98 House and half of the 49 Senate seats are up for election. Since neither party is assured a working majority following the election, and since no significant budget debates are likely this session, instead each caucus will surely be staking out positions that highlight their policy preferences and differences on a variety of issues.

Anything related to jobs and education will be in the spotlight, as well as the resolution of continuing differences on funding transportation improvements and services. One of the central debates involving all of these issues has been whether or not the state is poised to have Boeing construct its next plane and components here. With that now resolved for the next decade or so, after machinists narrowly voted for benefits changes, it’s unclear where the pressure points will next arise to keep attention on these issues in 2014.

Impacts on AWC’s Action Agenda

Cities large and small rely on the state to help keep cities strong and our state great. And, despite the fact that most of the revenues generated come from cities, it will continue to be challenging in this environment to attain city-focused goals. Whereas the state’s primary responsibility is to educate our children and protect the most vulnerable among us, the primary responsibility of cities is to keep our communities safe, livable and supportive of business activity. Our four 2014 Action Agenda priorities seek to:

  • Restore the growth in liquor revenue that helps support public safety services in cities. This 80 year revenue source was capped in 2012, but the growth in cities and need for services weren’t. Our legislation asks for the growth to return slowly starting in mid-2015;
  • Allocate a portion of any new marijuana tax revenue to cities and reconcile provisions of recreational and medical cannabis. Stores selling marijuana for recreational purposes will begin opening later this spring. Unregulated stores selling medical marijuana already exist. The Federal Government has made it clear that our state needs a tightly regulated system or it will intervene and neither the will of the voters or tax revenue will happen;
  • Adopt a transportation revenue package now that addresses state and local needs; and
  • Halt the raids on dedicated public infrastructure funding accounts to fund other state priorities. We can’t undo what’s been done for this biennium’s budget with the diversion of Public Works Trust Funds but, we must work with legislators and the Governor to avoid doing this again and build back these critical funding sources.

We need your help if we’re to be successful on any of these priorities. You can do that from home by staying in touch with your own legislators and you can do it in Olympia by coming to meet with them. If you haven’t signed up for our 2014 City Action Days on January 29-30, we encourage you to do so. If you can’t come then, we’d welcome you other times during the session. We will be arranging for meetings among city officials and legislators on our key issues, so tell us if you’re interested in a particular topic. And, if you’re coming to town, please let us know and we will be happy to help you.

Although each of our four priorities relate to the state’s budget in one way or another, we spend much of our time and energy during legislative session tracking and responding to hundreds of ideas legislators and special interests have concerning how cities should do things differently. While focusing on our Action Agenda, we’ll continue to respond to these other ideas and will need your help to communicate to your legislators why some of those work well and some don’t work at all.

If you have questions, ideas or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact me or others on our great team. We’re all in this together to reinforce the message that Strong Cities are needed to make and keep a Strong State!