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Published on Monday, March 6, 2017

Cities told budget will be devastatingly gloomy – Tell your Senator why cities matter

Why now? There’s at least $210 million in city revenue sharing funds susceptible to the budget ax as Senate budget writers work behind closed doors to craft their budget proposal. The proposed budget is expected to be released and voted upon soon after the next state revenue forecast on March 16, which will tell them what revenues to expect. After that, they will quickly decide what they can afford to fund, what gets cut, or whether or not new revenue is needed to fund top priorities.

More than 360 city officials gathered in Olympia on February 15, and they weren’t the first to hear that the budget proposal in the Senate will be “devastatingly gloomy.” More than 2/3 of an expected $40 billion plus operating budget is dedicated to schools, and there is arguably little room to cut elsewhere. That leaves less than 1/3 of their budget to “play with” and it’s within this portion that historic shared revenues with cities are located.

Even though the $210 million now shared with every city to support services like public safety makes up only half of one percent of the overall state operating budget, some legislators view these as non-critical or unnecessary. They assume cities large and small are doing well in this economy and won’t miss the funds if eliminated. Few recognize that with the sole exception of the Tri-cities area, nowhere else in the state began to get back to pre-2008 recession employment levels until very recently, and some haven’t gotten there yet!

Tell your Senator or remind them that these shared revenues make a difference in your community. In addition, liquor revenues have been shared for decades and absent them, local liquor taxation might have been sought or allowed. If the state pursues retreating from sharing revenues generated in our communities, what are legislators doing to help reduce service costs? With the exception of legislation that helps modernize the Public Records Act to allow small charges for electronic records, legislators don’t have much else to offer as help thus far in the session.

City officials in communities represented by Senators on the Ways & Means Committee, or whose Senators serve in a caucus leadership position, were encouraged to politely, but firmly call them to ask for their continued support of revenue sharing. Every other city official is now encouraged to do the same. Budget negotiators need to know that you’re wanting continued support and so too are your Senators.

Messages to consider sharing, and links to the state-shared revenues your city is estimated to receive, are as follows:

  • Cutting city revenue doesn't solve the state's problem. It just reduces our effectiveness as the economic engine for the state and puts services we provide, like public safety, at risk.
  • These distributions represent half of 1% of the state's general fund but represent decades of agreements with cities and towns. There should not be cuts to revenue absent equal cuts to obligations.
  • These funds support critical services that benefit our shared constituents, and should not be jeopardized as part of any budget negotiation strategy.

Be prepared to hear from some legislators that sweeping these vital funds is merely a first negotiating position. Politely, but firmly, remind them that it is wrong to use wholesale cuts to cities and towns around the state as a negotiating strategy.

Contact information for your Senator is a click away here, and information about your own city shared revenues estimated to receive 2017-19 if cuts aren’t made are available here (select your city in the drop-down arrow box).

Cities and towns across the state need to stand united and let Senators know that we know their jobs aren’t easy and that resource demands exceed what’s available. As partners in governance and representing our communities, we’re here to keep cities strong and this a great state!