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Published on Friday, September 19, 2014

Ask Legislators about the Future of Revenue for your Local Budget

As you begin the process of developing your city or town’s budget, now is as good a time as any to ask your state legislators and legislative candidates some questions about how their actions in the upcoming legislative session will impact your city or town’s fiscal future.

Here are some suggested questions you can ask your legislators about crucial decisions they will likely face in the upcoming session:

  • Even though liquor revenues are less now than they were in the past, they still constitute the single largest state revenue shared with all cities and towns. Can my city count on continuing to receive liquor revenues as we build our budget?
  • If my town allows, or is going to allow, a recreational marijuana business, will any of the revenue from the 75% state excise tax be shared with my town?
  • My city has been selected for a Public Works Trust Fund loan. Should we count on getting this critical infrastructure investment? Should my city spend the precious resources to continue to apply for these loans, or will legislators sweep the loan repayments again?
  • With the Legislature's failure to pass a transportation package, gaps are developing in the state transportation budget. Will the state cut the highly successful Transportation Improvement Board (TIB) program to fill those gaps?

The answers your legislators have to these inquiries may or may not surprise you; and your questions may or may not surprise them. AWC’s emerging legislative priorities will likely be aimed at maintaining and strengthening the city/state partnership, but more on that later. Don’t forget to look for the TAKE ACTION “check mark” in other Bulletin articles, and check out the full list of Take Action on our website.

Campaign season is in full swing, and since all House seats and many Senate seats are up for reelection, you will rarely have better access to legislators and legislative candidates before the winners head back to Olympia in January for what will surely be a contentious legislative session. While there may be disagreement on some of the numbers, the fact is there will not be enough money to do what legislators and the Governor want to do, compounded by the fact that the State Supreme Court just found the Legislature in contempt for failing to adequately fund K-12 education. The Legislature must somehow respond to the Court’s findings, or face the threat of sanctions.

Here are some fiscal facts:

  • Our economy is recovering, slowly and more so than in past recessions.
  • There is new revenue projected without changes to current laws, but it is not enough, especially with the McCleary funding needs looming.

Significant differences of opinion and perspective exist among the Governor and legislators in the House and Senate as to how much of needed revenues should come from further efficiencies, cuts, or sweeps.

  • About 2/3’s of the state’s $34 billion operating budget funds programs that are protected from cuts by constitutional or federal requirements, such as K-12 education.
  • Of the 1/3 remaining budget, significant portions fund higher education and prisons, neither of which are likely targets for more or significant cuts; social services support accounts for a majority of the rest, and cuts in those safety nets are unlikely.
  • The small amount of budget remaining includes most of the sources and allocations shared with cities and towns.

We’ve seen the drill over the past few years that finds legislators looking under every rock to find efficiencies, and ultimately, funds that they can redirect or sweep. Case in point, the diversion of revenue streams and loan repayments supporting the Public Works Trust Fund. We are very concerned that ALL of the state revenues shared with cities are vulnerable – especially in a “no new revenue” scenario. We’ll learn more what that may look like when the Governor proposes a “no new revenue” budget in December as required by law. However, the no new revenue will not likely be what he wants, we can expect to see that in another proposed budget that includes his recommended new revenues and what he’d “buy back” with them.

AWC is preparing for the upcoming session in many ways, and we’re going to need your help like never before if we’re going to be successful:

  • Our Legislative Priorities are being crafted with various inputs, most notably through consultation with the Legislative Committee. They met in Spokane in June, via conference call in August, and in SeaTac on September 16, where we heard from and talked with several key fiscal leaders: Representatives Reuven Carlyle (D-Seattle), Terry Nealy (R-Dayton), and Hans Dunshee (D-Snohomish), and David Schumacher the Governor’s Budget Director.
  • Legislative Committee recommendations are being finalized, and will be presented to the AWC Board on October 3 when they will meet to discuss and adopt the 2015 priorities. Expect the priorities to closely mirror the preliminary priorities identified earlier this summer by the Committee.
  • Once adopted, legislative priorities will be shared with and distributed to AWC members, other interests, and the media.
  • The priorities will also be the subject of discussions during upcoming AWC Regional Meetings which you are encouraged to attend. Please note that for those unable to attend a Regional Meeting in person, you can register to listening into the Yakima or Olympia meeting via webinar.
  • AWC Leaders will share adopted priorities in person with the Governor when they meet with him in Olympia on October 16.

AWC’s job now is to finalize legislative priorities, and craft ways to clearly and convincingly articulate them.  We can’t do it alone, and so we appreciate and rely on the city officials across the state who have taken the challenge to participate in AWC’s Operation: Strong Cities. We’ve been traveling around the state sharing the importance of engaging your legislators and candidates now, and have been grateful for feedback and suggestions on how all of us can most effectively share our messages of need. If you have not yet seen the Strong Cities Pocket Guide, browse through it and choose something you can do.

Does your city have an issue for the AWC 2015 Legislative Agenda?

AWC’s Legislative Priorities Committee has been working on identifying priority issues for the 2015 session, and is now preparing to consider other issues that would also be appropriate for the 2015 legislative agenda. AWC has traditionally adopted a legislative agenda that includes both priority issues as well as a host of other issues that cities and towns support and/or oppose for the coming legislative session.

We are asking cities to submit any issues that they would like the Legislative Committee to consider adding to the 2015 agenda. If you would like to submit an issue, please do so using this form no later than October 10. When submitting issues, please consider whether or not they are included in AWC’s Statement of Policy, why they are best addressed in 2015, and if there are multiple jurisdictions that would be interested or impacted by the issue.

If you have any questions about the process, please contact Dave Williams.