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Published on Monday, August 14, 2017

2017 session recap: It took a record-breaking 193 days to finish, there’s still no capital budget, but overall, city issues were mostly addressed

The need for legislators to finally and fully address K-12 funding gaps dwarfed most other issues during the 2017 legislative session. It was unclear how cities would fare until the very end. When session ultimately concluded with little fanfare, cities generally fared well – other than an unresolved deadlock that currently leaves no capital budget to fund critical local projects. A summary of how AWC priorities fared is included at the end of this section.

The 193 days consisted of a regular 105-day session, and three special sessions. As usual, we spent a considerable amount of our time helping legislators sort through their ideas on how cities should address each issue. There were numerous attempts to preempt local authorities, create new costly mandates, or eliminate or reduce key state support to city interests. Ultimately, we were successful in stopping detrimental ones from moving forward.

After the conclusion of the regular session, AWC witnessed the passage of our priority bills making reform measures to the Public Records Act. These long-sought measures were the result of several years of back and forth conversations, hearings, and a State Auditor study detailing costs and challenges with the 1970s era statutes. Ultimately, a core group of committed legislators used their skills to reach consensus with stakeholders and local governments, and took these important first steps.

As the special sessions began, we remained optimistic that critical state-shared revenues would ultimately be retained, key infrastructure funding would return to the dormant Public Works Trust Fund, and resources and tools would be provided to cities to address homelessness. The first and second 30-day special sessions found most legislators at home while leadership worked behind the scenes attempting to resolve budget and outstanding policy issues. During this period, AWC and city officials throughout the state continued to remind legislators of the value and importance of the $225 million in operating revenues shared with cities.

Amid the third special session and within hours of the state’s fiscal year ending with no budget, an operating budget was unveiled and passed. Thankfully, it did contain almost all critical state-shared revenues and some important new revenues that benefit both the state and cities. It contained changes to the 1 percent cap on property taxes for the state to meet its funding needs, but unfortunately not one sought by counties and cities. Before closing out this historically-long session, the Legislature took action to retain a critical funding source needed to address homelessness, as well as a bill to revitalize the Public Works Trust Fund, but funding it remained elusive.

Ultimately, legislators left town without adopting a capital budget. This resulted from the inability of legislators and the Governor to come to agreement on how to address a thorny State Supreme Court ruling that called into question the availability of water from exempt wells. Without resolving this Hirst case, agreement on the capital budget hasn’t happened. Quiet conversations continue, but it remains unclear if a solution will be reached.

The 2018 session looms ahead

In the meantime, summer is waning and the 2018 session looms ahead. AWC’s Legislative Priorities Committee met in July to begin the process of identifying potential priorities for 2018. They’re meeting again in mid-September to consider and recommend a short list of priorities for consideration by AWC’s Board of Directors. Later that month, the Board will act and during October and early November, AWC will discuss these items with cities during a series of Regional Meetings throughout the state.

The upcoming “short” 60-day session is intended to fine tune the state’s budget, address some policy issues, and do so with a Senate that may or may not be controlled by the Republicans. In November, a key special election to fill a seat now held by a Republican is projected to be won by a Democrat which would shift control of the Senate and put both it, the House and Governor’s office in the hands of Democrats.

Whichever way the levers of political power turn, AWC will be there advocating for cities to remain strong and provide the tools to do so. We’ll work to fend off bills and ideas that erode local control and resources and continue to ask for and rely upon your efforts at home to keep your legislators, community, and media outlets aware of your needs. Those efforts proved invaluable this past session and were largely the reason for our successes. Thank you!