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Published on Monday, December 18, 2017

Legislators return in 2018 with different expectations and challenges – what might it mean for cities?

The balance of power has again shifted in Olympia and how that impacts cities will be a major focus of AWC during what we hope will be a short 60-day session beginning January 8 and ending March 8. Our Board of Directors adopted our 2018 Priorities in late September and we’ve spent the last few months discussing them with city officials across the state during ten regional meetings, as well as connecting with key legislators, administration officials and other interest groups.

Legislators will come to Olympia in January with their own priorities, and we’ll help them sort out the priorities that are beneficial to cities and counsel them about ones that are not helpful to cities. Over the two-month period they’re in town, we’ll communicate with you electronically at least twice a week about what’s happening, and how it impacts our 281 cities. On occasion, we’ll send you an Action Alert when all hands on deck are needed to push or stop something that’s time sensitive. We also hope many city officials will join us in Olympia for City Action Days on January 24 and 25, at which time you’ll hear from movers and shakers and do some yourselves on Capitol Hill.

Who’s in charge?

For the first time in five years, the Senate Democrats have a majority – by one vote, and the House Democrats maintain their two-vote majority. And as you know, Democratic Governor Jay Inslee occupies the Governor’s Mansion with his offices below the legislative chambers. There’s less than a year until November elections for all House seats and half of the Senate seats, so Democrats are likely to make their mark, but cautiously.

What might they do early in session?

First on their “to do” list will likely be an effort to pass the stalled capital budget that funds much-needed projects across the state. Efforts continue to resolve the Hirst water rights problems associated with the state Supreme Court ruling and we remain cautiously optimistic that our engagement is helping to find common ground.

We also expect the new majorities to take up a voting rights bill that would allow persons under-represented in local government entities to challenge whether or not officials should instead be elected on a district-by-district basis, rather than communitywide. AWC has been involved in the evolution of this bill over the past several years and has done our best to make sure that it can work in cities.

What about their budget?

The Legislature adopted the state’s two-year budget in July and since then more revenues are coming in than originally anticipated, and along with it came some likely unbudgeted obligations. One involves the state Supreme Court, which has said that funds needed to pay K-12 teacher salaries aren’t ramping up fast enough. Another is that discrepancies exist in the budget that need attention, and there are unmet needs resulting from several factors. The Governor released his ideas for a supplemental operating budget and there will likely be a hearing on those during the first few weeks of session. After that, House and Senate budget leads will begin working on their budget plans. During these deliberations, AWC will share our funding priorities and will keep you posted.

What happens next?

Legislators will spend the first month considering bills in committees, which is where we will focus our attention to start. Bills that could impact cities come up in a wide variety of committees in both the House and Senate. Each chamber has a local government committee where legislators who once served at the local level make up a majority of members from both parties. We engage with many other committees that deal with human service issues, fiscal matters, law and justice, personnel and pension matters, infrastructure, transportation, housing, and more.

In early February, legislators will narrow down the list of bills that leadership wants to keep moving and by Valentine’s Day, they’ll debate and decide which ones to move to the opposite chamber for their consideration. Things accelerate quickly and by the beginning of March, each chamber needs to decide which issues are in the endgame and by March 8, which will pass and how differences get resolved.

Amid all of this, hearings on budget fixes will ramp up and AWC will work to advance our issues, stop ones that damage or add unfunded costs to cities, and do what we can to help them achieve their priorities.

We look forward to keeping you informed and engaged, and we encourage you to keep in touch with us and your own legislators. As a powerful and influential Senator recently said when responding to a question from one of her local officials about how best to influence policy outcomes, “Have my cell number, call me and keep me informed of your needs – there’s no better person to influence me than one of my own constituents and as another elected official, you’ll always be listened to.”

Happy Holidays!