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Published on Friday, February 15, 2013

A dose of fiscal and political reality

Over 300 city officials gathered in Olympia this past week to lobby legislators and discuss priorities at AWC’s Legislative Action Conference. Governor Jay Inslee addressed the crowd at lunch the first day, shortly before heading to the Capitol to unveil his first major job-creating package. Therefore, it was not surprising that in his speech he suggested the best way to help cities prosper is to create jobs. He also encouraged cities to continue working (without statutory changes) to streamline the collection of local business taxes. Furthermore, he shared his interest in advancing a statewide transportation funding package this year and noted he was well aware of cities’ interest in maintaining, and again sharing in, liquor revenue growth.

While sympathetic in varying degrees to the fiscal needs of cities, neither the Governor nor the four legislative caucus leaders who spoke, were willing to promise that cities will keep existing liquor revenues or recover the lost growth from last year. They also were unwilling to commit that critical infrastructure accounts like the Public Works Trust Fund will be immune from transfers to the state general fund. Conference attendees were reminded that the state faces major shortfalls and will need to address them with a combination of cuts and revenue. AWC staff outlined the state’s budget challenges and potential impacts on cities in a presentation at one session.

We’ve long known it won’t be easy to pass our bills (HB 1368 & SB 5703) that recapture the $10 million in lost liquor taxes and remove the cap on revenue growth. AWC members must continue to remind legislators and the Governor that liquor consumption contributes to public safety problems in our communities and it’s legitimate to continue sharing those locally-generated revenues.

Conference attendees spent considerable time discussing the need for transportation funding – both for state projects and the maintenance of city transportation infrastructure.  We were pleased to hear House Transportation Chair, Rep. Judy Clibborn outline her plans to introduce legislation February 20  proposing a major statewide package designed to provide something for everyone – including direct distributions to cities and additional local options to help meet your needs. While most attendees appreciated her proposal, the general consensus was that it may need to be larger in order to truly benefit all parts of the state. Here’s AWC’s analysis of this evolving issue.

Representative Clibborn and other speakers reminded us of the importance of coalitions in helping legislators address difficult tasks such as balancing the state’s general fund budget, meeting new education funding mandates and closing funding gaps. We shared examples with conference attendees of coalitions that AWC is involved with that are making progress on issues such as capital accounts, gang prevention funding and transportation solutions. (For examples of coalition efforts, click here and look in the sidebar on the right.)

We’re anticipating the February 22 deadline for advancing bills within each house. If a bill hasn’t moved forward from a policy committee in either chamber by that date, it likely won’t be considered the rest of session. That will significantly decrease the number of bills under consideration. The next important cut-off dates are March 1 for fiscal and transportation bills, and March 13 for other bills, to get passed in either the House or Senate or else not survive. Exempt from these deadlines are budget bills or those necessary to implement them.

In the meantime, we’re also keeping our eye on action – or lack thereof – in the other Washington as Congress and the President grapple with $1 trillion in domestic, defense and Medicare spending cuts set to trigger on March 1 if an agreement can’t be reached. We’re encouraged to see that U.S. House and Senate bills were introduced to address internet sales taxes – something supported in AWC’s updated Federal Priorities adopted by your Board during its February 12 meeting.

Again our thanks to those who came to Olympia to show your support and encouragement! And, thanks to those who continue to advocate from their own cities on issues of importance to all of us.