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Published on Friday, January 11, 2013

Legislators and a new Governor gather to address fiscal challenges and opportunities: what’s at stake for cities?

On January 14 at noon, legislators will gather in Olympia to begin what promises to be 105 days of serious, difficult, and likely dramatic deliberations as they craft a two-year state budget that must be adopted and agreed upon by our new Governor by no later than July 1. Two days after session begins, Governor-elect Jay Inslee will be inaugurated as our 34th Governor. Central to their efforts will be questions about how to: fund K-12 and higher education; maintain and expand state and local infrastructure; retain and grow businesses and job opportunities; and provide services for those most vulnerable in a caring and cost-effective manner. All of this and more must be accomplished within the context of constrained revenue and significantly different opinions on whether or not new revenues are needed and, if so, for what.

AWC has been developing our agenda for this session since late last spring. We did so understanding that our partnership with the state is evolving and that cities can’t continue to rely on the same types and amounts of funding support you’ve gotten in the past – for both general fund activities and capital projects. As these realities settle in, the state must reboot its relationship with cities, where most of our state’s citizens and economic activity reside. New costly state mandates may have been all but halted, but funding to implement existing ones is either insufficient or nonexistent, which is not acceptable. Cities need authorities and tools to meet both local needs and the requirements still mandated or influenced by state policies, but not all of the right tools are available (and those that are don’t work in all cities).

We sought ideas from our 281 member cities, compiled and presented a draft updated Statement of Policy that was adopted by members at our annual conference in June, then spent several months working with an 80-person Legislative Committee to craft and fine-tune priorities and issue positions to recommend to your Board of Directors. The Board adopted our agenda, which centers on a set of priorities (found here) that focuses on three core themes: ensure fiscal sustainability and flexibility, foster and invest in economic development and infrastructure, and enhance service provision. The agenda also includes positions on dozens of issues (found here) vetted by our Legislative Committee and deemed important for AWC to engage in during the session.

On January 15, outgoing Governor Gregoire will deliver her final state-of-the-state address to a joint session of the Legislature. The budget proposals she leaves may or may not be considered by her successor and the new Legislature. At noon the next day, Governor-elect Inslee will take the oath of office before a joint session and will deliver his inaugural address, expected to outline his goals and governing approach for the coming session. He has spent time since his election developing his agenda and gathering his team of advisors, policy staff, and department directors. He has named several key players, including his new Legislative and Policy Director, Ted Sturdevant, who has served until recently as Director of the Department of Ecology. AWC and many cities know and respect Ted and we look forward to working with him.

As the session commences, most of those legislators taking their seats the first day are veterans of the process. Twenty of the 98 representatives and five of the 49 senators are new to the Legislature. The Democrats hold a 55-44 seat majority in the House, where leadership and committee structures will be very similar to last session. Twenty-six senators were elected as Democrats; however, two of them have joined their 23 Republican colleagues to form a new one-seat majority led by Sen. Rodney Tom, a Democrat from the eastside of Lake Washington. Where senators will sit and have their offices has been decided, but questions remain about committee structures and membership, as well as how this new majority will operate.

Your AWC legislative team is geared up and ready to advance our agenda. We are pleased to welcome Alison Hellberg as our new lobbyist lead on transportation, economic development, and infrastructure issues. Alison is an Olympia native and a graduate of the University of Washington undergraduate and law school. For the past six years she has served as non-partisan staff to a number of House committees. In addition to overseeing our legislative efforts and agenda, I will assist Alison as needed this session as she fine-tunes her understanding of city perspectives on issues in her portfolio.

We’ll be reporting on our progress weekly during the session in our revamped Legislative Bulletin that will be posted online late afternoon each Friday and delivered by e-mail on Monday mornings. Postings are “tagged” by topic and may well be updated during the week. Our BillTracker will include up-to-date information and commentary on key bills (expect it to be populated gradually at first). We’ll also provide you with updates during the week in our mid-week CityVoice emails and hope to post brief video updates from lobbyists when helpful and appropriate. Please feel free to contact me or any of our team with questions or comments.

Please consider joining us in Olympia for our 2013 City Legislative Action Conference, coming up on February 13-14. Registration has opened, so save your spot now! We’ve invited the Governor and will have numerous legislators there to speak to you and answer questions. It’s a great time to connect with your own legislator and connect with your peers from other cities. The timing of it is soon before important cut-off dates to move legislation, so it will be time well spent!