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Published on Friday, October 17, 2014

2015 Legislative Priorities Aim to Keep Cities Strong

When the 2015 legislature convenes on January 12, AWC’s legislative agenda and priorities will be but one of many the Governor and legislators will be urged to address. First and foremost in their minds will likely be how they are going to come up with enough revenue to adequately fund K-12 education. What is needed to keep our cities and towns strong and vibrant, and thus a large part of the state’s economy and quality of life healthy, will fall quite a bit further down the list of their immediate concerns.

Our challenge – now, before they arrive, and again once they come to Olympia - is to help them understand and value that quality schools need strong cities, and vice versa. Keeping our state great relies in large part, on keeping cities - where most Washingtonians choose to live, work, learn and play - strong. Simply finding and allocating somewhere between the estimated $1.2-2 billion more to meet existing K-12 education needs does not ensure that children and families have safe and secure homes and jobs to support them. Similarly, communities deficient in quality schools do not work well either.

Mindful of what is foremost on their minds, and the fact that our priorities were likely to focus on maintaining and enhancing our fiscal partnership with the state, AWC’s legislative priorities development process over the past several months has included attempts to educate you about the state’s budget and revenue challenges. Our recent State Budget Issue Brief best summarizes the situation. You can also view an informative presentation by Governor Inslee’s Budget Director, David Schumacher.

On October 3, the AWC Board of Directors met to review legislative priority recommendations from our Legislative Priorities Committee. After thoughtful discussions, the Board adopted the following priorities – links to issue briefs provide more detail:

In addition, staff was asked to continue developing ideas on how to ensure no new mandates or cost drivers are thrust upon cities, and to seek opportunities to address existing ones.

Finally, the Board acknowledged that protecting and enhancing city revenues and local options are not likely to succeed unless the Governor and legislators coming up with methods, other than continued diversions and sweeps, to address their priorities. This may mean new revenue, so AWC staff was directed to look at, and provide, more information to the Board and our membership on what those options might include, and how they might impact businesses and services in our communities. Look for more in the coming weeks on this.

On Thursday, October 16, AWC President Francis Benjamin and three other AWC Board of Directors met with Governor Inslee to share our priorities for the upcoming session. During the 45-minute exchange, President Benjamin (Pullman), Vice President Paul Roberts (Everett), Councilmember Lauren Walker (Tacoma), and Mayor Pat Johnson (Buckley) talked about the needs and challenges facing our cities and towns, and the Governor spoke of his challenges finding ways to meet our needs as well as those of others. He shared that he does not support meeting the state's needs by continuing to cut back or eliminate funding to help support our services and need for maintaining and expanding infrastructure. He also challenged AWC to help find ways to have sufficient funding for strong cities and an array of needed state services – including quality schools.

There was a frank and constructive discussion about a range of topics, including the need to address how best to manage both the recreational and medical marijuana businesses and their impacts within our communities.

The Governor welcomed and complimented the work AWC is doing in promoting Operation Strong Cities and was very appreciative of the ideas lined out in our Pocket Guide – seen here with his own prized copy!

Pictured left to right: Board Member Lauren Walker, President Francis Benjamin, Governor Jay Inslee, Vice President Paul Roberts, and Board Member Pat Johnson

What’s Next and What Can You Do?

AWC’s 2015 priorities are set, and before the AWC Board’s next meeting on December 5, we will continue to talk about them at our remaining Regional Meetings, share them with other interests, and continue talking to the Governor, his staff, and legislators. We encourage you to consider including them in your city’s own 2015 legislative agenda, and promote them in discussions in your community and with your own legislators. Tips and suggestions on how to do this and participate in AWC’s Operation Strong Cities efforts can be found here.

However, we are not focused solely on these priorities. During a legislative session, AWC typically follows hundreds of bills that, in one way or another, impact cities – positively or negatively. We try to anticipate what these might be, and have asked cities across the state to share issues important to them that we need to work on and follow. We have received a number of such requests, and will be discussing and developing positions on them during the November 13 meeting of AWC’s Legislative Priorities Committee. Some of those items, such as the complex issues surrounding voting rights, are described in more detail within this edition of the Bulletin.

The November elections are just around the corner, and we will soon know who will be at the Capitol to engage in the thorny issues we are facing.