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Published on Friday, January 31, 2014

Cities swarm Olympia on Capitol Hill, Legislator connections need to continue

Many thanks to the over 300 city officials who just spent two days here in Olympia during AWC’s City Action Days. It was a great opportunity for them to meet with each other and with their legislators to deliver a message that the key to keeping Washington a great state is to maintain strong cities. Thanks to the great showing, cities were front and center in Olympia this week and helped put a face on our issues. It is now important to continue that momentum during the remaining 40 days of the legislative session, or those strong impressions may fade away.

The City Action Days Conference kicked off with a speech by Governor Inslee who after a warm welcome, heralded the importance to communities and business ventures across the state that stemmed from Boeing’s recent decision to stay and expand in Washington. He talked of the need to pass a Transportation Revenue package and noted ways his Transportation Department is improving efficiencies. Referring to another of AWC’s priority issues, he said that he’d like to share more liquor revenues with cities, but recognizes that at a time when there aren’t sufficient dollars to fund K-12 education he may not find support amongst enough legislators. When questioned about the need to partner with cities on implementing new marijuana laws, he said he was in a listening phase and was open to ideas, but didn’t commit to the need to share any new revenue. And finally, he noted his appreciation about how involved AWC has been in discussions related to clean water and fish consumption issues and acknowledged the challenges of addressing the concerns.

Attendees spent much of the rest of Day 1 hearing about and sharing perspectives on AWC’s Action Agenda items. Each AWC lobbyist paired up with a city official to update attendees on our priorities and our thanks go out to:

  • Dupont Councilwoman Penny Coffey who emphasized the importance of shared liquor revenue to support basic public safety services;
  • Olympia Mayor Steven Buxbaum on the need to share enforcement and revenue with the state to implement marijuana laws;
  • Kirkland Councilmember Dave Asher on the critical need to pass a transportation package now because absent that, an April 2014 vote is likely in King County to fund many local needs and that if passed, voters there aren’t likely to support new funds for other parts of the state any time soon; and
  • Tukwila Mayor Jim Haggerton who shared concerns about the impacts in his city when much needed funds were lost from the sweeping of the Public Works Trust Fund.

Day 2 found most attendees gathering in a large tent on the Capitol grounds for breakfast and to hear from an important and influential group of legislators before rallying on the Capitol steps and dispersing to several important hearings and meetings with their own legislators.

  • Pullman Mayor Glenn Johnson moderated presentations and a discussion among House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan (D-Covington), Deputy Minority Leader Joel Kretz (R-Wauconda), Senate Majority Coalition Caucus Leader Rodney Tom (D-Medina) and Democratic Caucus Vice-Chair Mark Mullet (D-Issaquah). Messages from them boiled down to yes, cities are vital and important and so too is education and an efficient and effective state government.
  • Sammamish Councilman Don Gerend moderated presentations by the Chairs of the Ways and Means Committees, Sen. Andy Hill (R-Redmond) and Rep. Ross Hunter (D-Medina) who each gave an impassioned and forceful take on how they view the budget. Also presenting were Sen. Jim Honeyford (R-Sunnyside) and Rep. Hans Dunshee (D-Snohomish) who each are Capital Budget leads in their chambers. The overall messages to cities were: the state’s budget is balanced for now, that was done in part by reducing funds for cities (liquor and public works dollars), and until education funding gets what it needs (and there’s still questions about what that is), city funding remains in jeopardy.
  • Kirkland Mayor Amy Walen facilitated a discussion about marijuana with the help of Sen. Ann Rivers (R-La Center), and staff of the Liquor Control Board and AWC. The focus was on legislation aimed at ways to better integrate medical marijuana availability with the about-to-be-opened recreational marijuana retail system.

Those who participated in the rally on the steps of the Capitol were motivated by short speeches from Mount Vernon Mayor Jill Boudreau focusing on infrastructure financing; Edmonds Mayor Dave Earling talking about transportation; and Twisp Mayor Soo Ing-Moody emphasizing the important of building partnerships.

Following the rally, city officials were able to testify and listen to a key hearing dealing with marijuana revenue and pre-emption of zoning and regulatory authority on siting marijuana facilities. And, there also was a strong city presence at an afternoon hearing about bills to restore funding for the Public Works Trust Fund.

Our City Action Days Conference puts the spotlight on cities, and helps bolster the work of AWC’s government relations team as we work to represent your interests. That said, we’re only one-third of the way through the 60-day session and as one legislator remarked during our tent gathering, there’s great attention given when legislators hear what cities need, if that message is being delivered by folks from home. That’s why when you connect with your legislator, you’re words are powerful, and you’re hard to ignore!