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Published on Friday, April 17, 2015

Gearing up for the final week of regular session

The Capitol was eerily quiet at the end of the 14th week of the regular session. Faced with the deadline to wrap up critical policy and budget discussions by April 26, most legislators returned home for a sunny spring weekend. Given how much is left to finish, an additional special session is likely.

While we await the outcome of important and difficult discussions about the state’s operating, capital and longer-term transportation investment packages, there has been progress on several fronts of importance to cities:

  • The House Finance Committee held a public hearing on HB 2156, an important new bill aimed at fiscal sustainability for cities and counties. Most significant for cities, the bill slowly removes the 2012 cap placed on growth in shared liquor profits and provides for more robust growth after 2023. There are some other helpful provisions, such as allowing for cost recovery on public records requests used for commercial purposes. The bill authorizes counties to impose a utility tax in unincorporated areas but not on any city utilities serving those areas. This provision is strongly opposed by business interests which could place the whole bill in jeopardy. More details on the bill available here.
  • The House passed, and Senate agreed to SB 5052, which addresses how the currently unregulated medical marijuana market and the highly regulated recreational one work together. The bill is on its way to the Governor’s desk for approval, and we are very pleased for this outcome.
  • Still unresolved, but being negotiated, are provisions of HB 2136. Among the various provisions cities are tracking, we remain concerned about current proposed-levels of revenue sharing of marijuana taxes with cities and counties. We are hopeful these negotiations will result in an increase in revenue sharing with local governments, and that local land use authorities will be maintained.
  • Serious negotiations have begun between Senate and House transportation leaders, all of whom appear dedicated to enactment of a new transportation investment package this year. AWC is very supportive of this effort and we are doing what we can to help these discussions succeed.

Most significantly, there continue to be signs of genuine interest in all corners of the Capitol to recognize and address key needs of local governments. This is a direct result of legislators hearing from you at home and the fact that several legislators, in all corners, have local government experience “in their blood.”

The Senate-passed budget maintains most of the important shared revenues for cities and funds many important programs. The House-proposed budget maintains all of the most important shared revenues and also funds key programs. How they do this and to what degree does differ. We try to reflect how they’re each doing in our status report which we keep updated on a daily basis.

Finally, this week we completed a round of city and county meetings with key leaders in the Legislature. On April 16, Everett Councilmember and AWC Vice President Paul Roberts and Mayors Marilyn Strickland of Tacoma and Mario Martinez of Mabton, joined county officials in a very constructive half hour meeting with House Speaker Frank Chopp. During a wide-ranging discussion they expressed support and appreciation for budget and policy items, and reiterated the need to conclude the session with key budget items and policy bills intact.

It’s all but certain that we’ll have a special session. For how long, no one knows. We’ll continue to keep you posted and also ask you to keep in touch with your own legislators to thank and remind them of the need to take action on our priorities.