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Published on Friday, March 8, 2013

Legislature at the halfway point

We’re fully engaged in the “roller coaster” phase of legislative session. The last week was filled with ups and downs as both the House and Senate picked through the bills they want to advance. As of today, 216 of the 1130 bills introduced in the House and 153 of the 1037 introduced in the Senate have passed and been sent to the other chamber for consideration. Only a single bill has passed both chambers and been signed by the Governor.

In our “normal” bicameral legislative process, many bills are passed unanimously or near unanimously, because they are not partisan or contentious. The language of most bills has been carefully worked out among interest groups and stakeholders prior to being brought before the Legislature, and more often than not, agreements are already reached prior to coming up for a vote.

This is not the case for several legislative priorities of importance to cities this year. Here’s where some of our toughest fights are expected to unfold:

  • With the state budget under stress, it is going to be very difficult for legislators to reach agreement on a biennial budget. Federal sequestration and an increase in the caseload forecast could exacerbate the state’s budget problem. (Read more about that here.) One of AWC’s priorities this session is to restore cuts in city liquor revenue made last year (HB 1368 and SB 5703). While we are finding widespread interest and sympathy among legislators, they don’t know if they have the money, and everyone else is also seeking funding for their priorities.
  • Cities are looking for ways to maintain streets and provide transportation services. Unlike the state and counties, cities don’t have a dedicated source of transportation revenue. While cities patch together funds from the relatively small amount of state-shared gas taxes, grants, and loans, most funds end up coming from local general fund revenues. We’re among a growing list of interests advocating for both a state transportation package and expanded local option funding sources. While there’s considerable interest among legislators and the Governor to address these needs, it is unlikely to get real traction until the state general fund revenue issues are worked out.
  • We’ve worked for several years to support open government while finding a way to curb abusive public records requests. This remains contentious and we continue advocating for HB 1128.
  • Our goal is always to protect the ability of cities to make decisions that work best for you and to oppose mandates. We’re often successful, but sometimes not. Such is the case with an issue that has percolated around Olympia for several years – some legislators want to designate the timing for cities that impose and collect impact fees from builders on new growth. Under HB 1652/SB 5664, they are looking for ways to help spur homebuilding by mandating a delay on the collection of these fees for schools, parks, fire service, or roads until a home sells and closes.

Legislators will wrap up round one of their policy bill debates by 5 pm on March 13. The next round commences immediately thereafter, as the opposite chambers consider what has been sent over for their consideration. While that gets underway, leadership and budget writers prepare for what is expected to be a somewhat gloomy revenue forecast, which could increase the size of the projected budget gap.

On a personal note, we’re pleased to share that AWC lobbyist Carl Schroeder and his wife Mary welcomed their son Gus into the world on March 7. Carl will be spending some well-deserved time getting to know his son, and I’ll be covering his subject areas until he returns.