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Published on Friday, February 28, 2014

Budget tango – the dance that is impacting everything at the Capitol

The partners are dressed and ready for the impassioned finale to a session that so far has been devoid of much action. This past week, the Senate took its turn to unveil, debate and adopt a supplemental budget. It did so without rancor and an impressive bi-partisan 41-8 vote. They also acknowledge that the dance isn’t over until the House acts and they reconcile budget differences. The House’s Democratic majority’s approach was presented mid-week as a way to let everyone know where they are out-of-step with the Senate. This serves as a prelude to all of them working with the Governor to craft an agreement before the 60-day session clock runs out on March 13.

AWC’s Action Agenda priorities all center on fiscal matters – some of which can or should be reflected in the budget. We first carefully reviewed the Senate proposed version and testified during a crowded hearing. Comments focused on opposition to yet another proposed reduction in liquor tax distributions to all cities and towns. Interestingly, there was an almost equal, but not guaranteed, replacement of these liquor revenue losses with a portion of new marijuana tax revenue. Next we reviewed and testified during a less-crowded House hearing and thanked bill sponsors for not reducing liquor tax distributions. However, no marijuana revenue was allocated to local governments in this proposal. Our updated summary of the proposed budget impacts to cities is posted here.

Now the negotiation dance begins in earnest among key budget writers and administration officials – much of it behind the scenes. Meanwhile, attention shifts to floor debate and action where bills that have passed either chamber must be acted upon no later than Friday, March 7 at 5 pm, or those bills are technically “dead” for the year. The remaining six days until session’s March 13 end will be spent reconciling differences between versions of a bill passed by each chamber – conducting the dance of diplomacy between each of them and the Governor’s office. AWC monitors and engages in these activities and watches for the possibility that one or more “dead” bills may resurface as part of end-game horse trading.

Within this week’s Bulletin, you’ll notice there remain few outstanding policy issues of concern to cities. Most bills we opposed did not continue moving. The disappointing news is that few, if any, of our priorities are advancing.

  • Restoring growth in liquor revenues capped two years ago was not even considered in either chamber. Instead, we’re trying to ensure that further cuts don’t occur – a position House budgeters have taken and one we strongly support.
  • Restoring funding for the Public Works Trust Fund has gained attention and interest, but there appears little chance the Senate will act on the House’s passage of this bill.
  • While transportation funding advocates continue to press for action, it doesn’t appear anything will happen and frustration is evident all around.
  • Finally, there appears to be interest in reconciling key differences between how medical and recreational marijuana are regulated and made available and for that we’re very appreciative. Unfortunately, few legislators seem serious about making a commitment to help local governments manage and respond to public safety impacts from the new system of growers, processers and sellers of legal recreational marijuana. A letter signed by 102 mayors representing more than 77% of the state’s incorporated population was circulated that asks for help now. Many thanks to those signing!

We haven’t given up hope and neither should you. We’ll continue to press for action on these items until the final dance is completed and the curtain falls as legislators depart for home.