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Published on Friday, January 17, 2014

Where does AWC’s Action Agenda fit among dueling legislative agendas?

As legislators returned this week to Olympia for the start of a new session, all 147 gathered in the House chamber to take in the Governor’s State of the State address. For an hour or so, tradition, camaraderie and a sense of common purpose overshadowed politics and partisanship. They collectively cheered for a Seahawks victory! Still, it wasn’t long before dueling press releases and tweets broke the spell and the differences between the agendas outlined by the Governor and those of the various House and Senate caucuses took center stage. Legislative hearings and work sessions commenced, good and bad ideas emerged, and everyone searched for an opening to move their agenda forward or block someone else’s.

It isn’t yet clear whether our agenda garners significant interest with the Governor and legislators as they grapple with dedicating more money to education or passing a transportation revenue package. At the end of the first week of an 8 ½ week session, those of us carrying the city message had fanned out to gauge interest and promote our issues.

Attention to AWC’s Action Agenda occurred early in the week as the House Finance Committee held a work session on how cities and counties raise and spend revenue and what portion of that comes from the state. As noted by Chair Rep. Reuven Carlyle (D-Seattle), he and other legislators need to understand the big picture when evaluating changes to responsibilities and revenue structure – something AWC and counties want to talk more about as we work to restore liquor revenues and add marijuana revenues.

By mid-week, legislative and press attention zeroed in on a written legal opinion from state Attorney General Bob Ferguson who when formally asked by the Liquor Control Board, concluded that cities and counties aren’t precluded from banning or restricting marijuana businesses legalized under I-502. These broad powers are granted under our state Constitution unless specifically restricted by law. AWC supports local control and will remind legislators and others that Colorado’s legal marijuana system recognizes local government can choose to allow or ban, and provides a share of new revenue to local governments to help implement the law and comply with federal guidelines.

The return of the Legislature also marked the one year anniversary of the attempt to put together a transportation revenue package. Discussion paused during the holidays, but interest clearly still exists in trying to find a solution. It remains a long shot, but cities are strongly encouraged to stay in touch with your own legislators and talk to them about your views on a transportation package.

We continue to look for interest among legislators to consider ways to restore funding to the Public Works Trust Fund. We are heartened by the interest we’re finding, but unsure how and when funding can happen given last year’s diversions and the critical funding challenges facing the state as it tries to adequately fund and operate our K-12 school system. Patience and perseverance are needed on this issue. Cities both large and small need this fund for critical infrastructure projects.

We’re gearing up for the arrival of 300 plus city officials for our City Action Days on January 29 and 30. We’re trying different ways this year to help advance our Action Agenda. We’ll spend Wednesday, January 29 at the Red Lion Hotel hearing from the Governor and talking with attendees about our priorities and bills of interest and concern, ending the day with our traditional reception. On Thursday, January 30, we descend on the Capitol Campus for an early continental breakfast in a huge heated tent on the Capitol lawn. You’ll hear from a great series of key legislators before rallying on the Capitol steps to show legislators that we need their support to help strong cities make a great state. Cities can then fan out to meet and talk with legislators and if they want, share a brown bag lunch in the tent.

At the end of week one, it seems this 60-day session may be more about defining partisan differences than finding agreement on things that matter. That doesn’t mean they can’t or won’t do important things and we’ll continue to pursue those important to cities. I hope you can join us in that pursuit during our City Action Days.