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Published on Friday, January 16, 2015

Might bi-partisanship succeed?

Last night dozens of Washington’s mayors gathered in Olympia to exchange leadership ideas and talk with legislators at a casual reception hosted by AWC. Listening to the friendly and sometimes serious chatter, it wasn’t easy to identify party affiliation. People were talking about solutions and leadership.

Along with the Governor, the 2015 Legislature faces many difficult decisions. More than any time in recent memory, the question of how to raise and spend revenue impacts everyone. Finding common ground and solutions could result in gridlock, or might fledgling efforts to work across party lines actually succeed?

The first days of legislative sessions produce lots of headlines covering the differences in priorities and perspectives. Not very bi-partisan, but that’s to be expected. It’s establishing sidebars for the serious debates to follow. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t simultaneous discussions going on behind the scenes among interests and legislators with various viewpoints and political affiliations. We’re encouraged this year that several legislators in both the House and Senate and from both political parties are working to find common ground on bills and budget ideas to help support strong cities and counties. That’s new. That’s refreshing.

Media and our attention turns to the committees that are holding work sessions and hearings on bills as they start to trickle in. If recent history (1990-2014) repeats itself during the year when a state budget must be adopted, we can expect the introduction of somewhere between 1300-1700 pieces of legislation. Of these, only about 20% will pass and most with bi-partisan support. Most of the high profile disputes you hear about result in bills not passing or being worked out in compromises.

Historically, AWC winds up tracking several hundred of the bills introduced because of the wide range of responsibilities and authorities cities have. We’ll spend a considerable amount of time working to help legislators figure out that many of them aren’t such good ideas after all. We’ll often ask for cities to reinforce these concerns with your local legislators because they care more about what you think than hearing it from us.

So as the session unfolds with slim majorities in control in both the House and Senate, the opportunity for bi-partisan dialogue is there for the taking. Cities tackle and solve things most often with little regard for partisanship. Your voices and encouragement can help make that happen in Olympia, but only if you let them be heard.