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Published on Friday, January 24, 2014

Legislators asked to remove barriers to strong cities – We need your help!

When discussing AWC’s revenue-focused 2014 Action Agenda, legislators’ reactions vary from strong support and sympathy to “you can’t be serious when we can’t even sufficiently fund the state’s needs.” Undeterred, we acknowledge their challenges and remind them of the equally daunting challenges facing our 281 cities.

The key to a great state is strong cities.

Some legislators believe efficiencies and an expanding economy will take care of funding state and local government needs. Others believe new revenue or changes to tax breaks will do the trick. Yet neither approach can succeed absent strong and vibrant cities.

Good jobs, good schools, economic opportunity and a great quality of life in any corner of our beautiful state – all depend on cities, large and small, with healthy and safe main streets, thriving neighborhoods and business centers whose workers and products can get to work or market over good streets.

Our cities asked us to keep our guard up against new mandates, work to make more sense of mandates already facing cities, and strengthen and update the state/local government partnerships that keep our communities strong now and into the future.

So how are cities and our Action Agenda doing at the end of the first two weeks of a 60-day session? What can you do to help?

  • Few if any legislators liked sweeping Public Works Trust Fund streams of revenue last session to help balance their budget, but it was one of their ways to do so without fighting over state program cuts or raising new revenue. Bills (HB 2244, HJR 4215 and SB 6120) have been introduced to start restoring these funds and the first two are being heard by the House Capital Budget Committee on January 30 during our City Action Days Conference. We hope to fill the room with supporters, and you can let your legislators know to help move these forward.
  • There’s literally a buzz about marijuana issues in Olympia – sorry for the pun. Hearings so far have zeroed in on ideas about reconciling medical and recreational marijuana to meet the federal mandate for a tightly-regulated system (HB 2149, SB 6178 and a proposed substitute version of SB 5887). Attention next week during our Conference shifts to ideas on sharing new marijuana revenue with cities and counties (HB 2144 and SB 6393) and unfortunately two bills (HB 2638 and HB 2322) that would pre-empt cities from many forms of regulating marijuana – an attempt to reverse the recent State Attorney General’s Opinion clarifying such authority exists. Your legislators need to hear from you on these.
  • We continue to beat the drum for legislators to restore liquor revenue sharing – the longest standing and single largest direct distribution revenue shared between cities and the state. Last session, we appreciated the appropriation and distribution of half of the liquor taxes recently diverted from cities. Now the focus is on restoring the growth in profits that were capped, and HB 2314 and SB 6361 incrementally restore growth in liquor profits. Neither bill has been scheduled for a hearing yet, and you can help by urging your legislators to help make that happen.
  • Finally, we haven’t given up hope for agreement on a transportation package that helps fund state projects, shares more gas taxes with cities, and provides funds for critical local projects and maintenance. Cities throughout the state continue to let legislators know of needs and ideas for efficiencies. Please keep it up!

We’re looking forward to the arrival of several hundred city officials for our City Action Days on January 29 and 30. After hearing from Governor Inslee and talking with attendees about hot bills and issues on the first day, we’ll shift our Conference attention and location to the lawn of the Capitol where we’ll hear from numerous legislative leaders before swarming the hill to weigh in on hearings including restoring Public Works Trust Fund dollars and marijuana revenue sharing and zoning pre-emption.

Whether or not you’re physically with us in Olympia next week, you can be here in spirit by continuing to remind your legislators and others in your communities that if they’re looking for the key to unlock the potential of our great state, look no further than helping make our cities strong.

City official and Legislator

It's difficult to remember the last time, if ever, that three sitting legislators are also city elected leaders. There have been numerous current and former legislators who served as mayors or councilmembers, but this may be a first. Say hello and best wishes to:

They join Senator Tim Sheldon who serves Mason County as both a commissioner and legislator and newly elected Senator Brian Danzel who serves Ferry County as both a commissioner and legislator.