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Western Municipal Association elects new leadership and looks at western economics

Over ninety western municipal officials attended the meeting of the WMA in Phoenix to connect on issues facing the Western states. The WMA represents fourteen Western states.

During the past year, WMA chair Lou Ogden connected with the Western Governors Association on key issues facing the West. Recently, the Western Municipal Association joined the Western Governors Association, Council of State Governments – West, and NACO Western Interstate Region to author a letter to Congress seeking reauthorization of the Secure Rural Schools Act. The Act is key to school funding for states that contain national forests, and it also supports active management of federal forests and collaborative action for issues such as community fire planning.

Ogden suggested that the WMA use the power of joint action with the other western government associations to promote issues key to cities. He asked for ideas and suggestions from the western officials who serve on NLC policy committees.

Judy Stubbs, Council Member of Roswell, New Mexico was unanimously elected to the position of WMA Chair for a two year term. Chair Stubbs asked for suggestions from members on topics for the WMA to pursue this year.

Conrad Lee, Deputy Mayor of Bellevue, Washington was unanimously elected to the position of WMA Vice Chair. Vice Chair Lee said that he wants the WMA to make sure that the Western point of view is heard in Washington DC. He also wants the WMA to become more active in the NLC Policy process.

Lou Ogden, Mayor of Tualatin, Oregon will remain on the WMA Board as the Immediate Past Chair.

The Executive Directors of the Western state municipal leagues briefly reported on "hot" municipal issues in their state:

  • George Parks, Wyoming – Hot button issues are federal maintenance of major U.S. transportation corridors, and regulatory reform, especially on timber and mining.
  • Mike McCarty, Washington – A $2 billion state budget shortfall, an attempt by the Governor to take back more than one third of state shared revenue, and an initiative largely funded by Costco to privatize liquor sales.
  • Mike McCauley, Oregon – Reauthorization of Secure Rural Schools, and EPA standards on water quality.
  • Connie Sprynczynatyk, North Dakota – Despite a huge growth in jobs, North Dakota is plagued with community growth issues including overwhelmed community infrastructure that is impacting quality of life. Also, federal flood assistance has not been available.
  • Bill Fulginiti, New Mexico – Ineffective business incentives that takes money out of municipal tax bases, the need for a sustainable water supply; and environmental regulation reform.
  • Lynn Rex, Nebraska – Federal government "nowhere" re: recovering from flood damage, major infrastructure issues, and regulatory reform, especially regarding public power.
  • Ken Harwood, Idaho – regulatory reform, especially stormwater regulations (Supreme Court recently struck down fees for stormwater districts.)
  • Sam Mamet, Colorado – voters recently rejected higher taxes for school under TABOR, and virtually no revenue measures passed at the local level.
  • Chris McKenzie, California – 90 local government revenue measures (82% passed versus old average of 65% showing citizen support for local government), the League has two lawsuits filed against the state regarding local development fees and license fee for new cities, and there is a huge state revenue gap.
  • Ken Strobeck, Arizona – For the first time in the U.S. a sitting Senate President has been recalled, there has been significant reductions to programs and revenues for municipalities, the Governor vetoed a bill that would have required bidding all local services over $50,000, a "proposition 13" type initiative is looming and the NFIB is proposing a small business tax credit that may impact municipalities, and voters did pass a half cent sales tax for area freeways.
  • Dick Traini, Alaska – Biggest issue is that 81% of land in Alaska is owned by the Federal government, this magnifying the impacts of federal policies and regulations. The economy in Alaska is OK.

The keynote speaker was Jim Rounds, Senior Vice President/Senior Economist for Elliott D. Pollock and Co. spoke on "Freudian Economics & Western Municipalities." Mr. Rounds has extensive expertise in matters of economics, finance, rural and urban economic development, public policy, taxation, real estate analysis, and litigation. He has delivered hundreds of presentations to national organizations, private companies, local civic organizations, universities, and legislative committees. He is also leading his firm’s efforts for state and local economic development and fiscal policy reform.

Mr. Rounds began his presentation with the premise that decisions on the U.S. markets, have now become more "psychological than economic." When reasons are given for market ups and downs by pundits, short term reasons, such as lower than projected figures in some segment of the economy, are routinely given. He believes that the real answer is, "We don't know."

His analysis on a "double dip" recession considers main economic categories:

  • Real GDP; real income;
  • Employment;
  • Industrial production; and
  • Wholesale/retail sales.

We are seeing a slow improvement in each of these major categories, so he feels that a "double dip" recession is unlikely. He expects to see some improvement by mid 2012, and a full recovery by 2015-16.

The West has had considerably slower job growth than the rest of the country. Some of the key points municipalities need to consider are:

  • Balance between low taxes and adequate investments in "intellectual and physical infrastructure."
  • What can we do to increase "Base" sector jobs versus local market jobs.
  • Much economic reform begins at the local and state level. What can we do to contribute and partner?

The slides for Round's presentation are available from your state municipal league.

In closing, WMA Chair Judy Stubbs shared the gist of "All I ever really needed to know I learned in Kindergarten" by Robert Faughum. She hoped that a government leaders would follow these simple rules for civility and teamwork. Vice-Chair Conrad Lee hoped that members will share issues so that the WMA can develop a list of the top three to five Western issues to work on this year.