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Published on Monday, November 13, 2017

Control of the state Senate shifts – How might it impact cities?

Following a special election in the Seattle suburbs last week, Senate Democrats regained the majority by one vote after five years of Republican control. With a slim two-vote majority in the House, there’s lots of speculation (but few certainties) about what might happen during the upcoming 60-day legislative session starting on January 8.

We do know the power shift in the Senate will result in a shake-up of who chairs and sits on committees, some of which may be restructured. We also expect certain issues to come up like a Washington version of a Voting Rights Act that could propel more cities to establish district voting systems for council elections. Efforts will also continue to pass the stalled capital budget that funds critical local projects. It’s not yet clear whether the Senate Republicans will continue to link the capital budget’s passage to a resolution of a contentious water rights issue (the Hirst case). Some Republicans’ votes are needed on the budget in order to meet the supermajority requirement to pass a bond bill.

A Democratic majority in the Senate likely provides more opportunities to consider ways to better address the deepening homeless and chemical dependency crisis facing many of our communities. These problems are increasingly recognized by both sides of the political aisle and AWC welcomes the chance to find ways that the state can support local efforts to address these challenges.

Governor Inslee will also seek progress on important items that have stalled when the Senate was controlled by Republicans. Expect to see proposals to tax carbon (which would include new revenue to address reducing emissions from congested traffic) and possible consideration of other revenue like a capital gains tax.

The state Supreme Court also has more to say on the K-12 related McCleary decision. The plaintiffs argued recently that the budget doesn’t adequately fund the K-12 system and the state argued it did. The funding package was a major issue in the Senate race that gave Democrats back control and they’re likely to revisit the issue regardless of what the court thinks. Anytime legislators start looking for different ways to fund priorities, cities are vulnerable to cuts or diversions from state-shared revenues.

All of these ideas and more will be discussed during what’s expected to actually be a 60-day session. Legislators must revisit their recently-passed biennial budget due to some drafting errors when hurriedly passed in late June, as well as how to allocate higher than expected revenues. With Democrats in charge, they’ll likely want to show they can manage the calendar and get out on time for a change – and all legislators want to start fundraising for the 2018 election, which they can’t do when in the Legislature is in session.

Look for updates as we learn more about what’s planned and possible. Remember, there’s no better time than now for you to connect with your legislators to let them know what you need and learn what they need from you. For best results, make contact before January. See our 2018 city legislative priorities for a refresher.