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Published on Monday, February 29, 2016

City priorities caught or ignored in Senate/House budget showdown

House Democrats passed a budget late last week that doesn’t damage city interests, but in order to preserve city priorities and address their priorities, it relies on a mixture of using reserves and closing some tax exemptions. Senate Republicans crafted a budget that does damage some city interests, and rather than using reserves or closing some tax exemptions, it uses fund transfers to present a balanced budget. At some point before March 10, when session is slated to end, the Senate and House must find common ground.

How cities will fare in this showdown isn’t yet clear. Do they really want to eliminate the Municipal Research and Services Center (MRSC) as proposed in the Senate budget? We don’t think so and suspect that this and some other proposals are at least in part, designed to be one of many pieces of a complicated back-and-forth trading matrix.

What seems clear:

  • Neither chamber is ready or willing to consider restoring liquor revenues diverted from cities for state purposes, nor are they prepared to seriously address local government infrastructure funding gaps.
  • There is no consensus on what to do to help address homelessness, but they seem closer to agreement on addressing mental health issues.
  • Most legislators acknowledge that the Public Records Act passed in 1972 is outdated and needs to be updated to respond to the major technological changes in the past 43 years and uptick in overly broad or harassing requests. The trouble is, legislators are concerned about the possible backlash from the press if they go forward with updates, even for modest changes to the PRA that cities support.
  • It’s not legislators’ fault that the price of oil has dropped significantly causing a $100 million shortfall in funds used to help address stormwater and toxic site clean-ups. Nevertheless, cuts to support these efforts have real impacts on water quality, our communities, and taxpayers.

Between now and March 10, we will do all we can to protect and preserve key city programs and revenues. We are meeting with legislators in person and communicating with them in writing. We will deliver a letter to the Governor and legislators that addresses what cities need in the final budgets. Look for this letter later this week in CityVoice and follow our updates on Twitter. Lastly, we will keep you posted when your help is needed to weigh-in on city issues.