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Published on Tuesday, November 18, 2014

No Cakewalk for AWC’s 2015 Legislative Agenda

It should be no surprise that legislators returning to Olympia on January 12 will face very difficult choices on what, and what not, to fund. Among agendas competing for their support is AWC’s, which zeros in on how and why it is important to keep a share of locally generated state fees and taxes at home to help cities stay strong. Although it will take most of the scheduled 105-day legislative session, or longer, to reveal the outcomes, several pieces of the puzzle shaping them have become clearer after the elections:

We officially have a divided government.

Democrats in the House remain in the majority, although by slimmer margins than before (51-47), and Republicans maintained, and slightly expanded, their majority in the Senate (26-23). We are likely to experience the rise or fall of various coalitions or caucuses throughout the session as legislators attempt to craft budget compromises. Among these, we expect bi-partisan groups of House, and hopefully, Senate members, who will discuss and advocate for city and county needs. Such organized groups have not previously formed.

The revenue forecast is up, and so too are obligations.

As the economy is slowly improving, so too are tax and fee collections. Simultaneously, demands for these revenues are on the rise in several key areas and exceed projected revenues:

  • The McCleary court decision obligates the state to spend more now and in the future on class sizes – particularly kindergarten – 3rd grade.
  • Passage of I-1351 (although by a very slim margin) further obligates the state to address staffing and class sizes – this time all the way through 12th grade.
  • A growing state means more students and more citizens in need of social services.
  • State worker health costs continue to rise, and there are pressures to provide teachers and others with cost of living increases.

Governor Inslee is required to release a balanced “no new revenue” budget by December 20.

Our Constitution requires the Governor to develop and deliver a 2015-17 state budget without new taxes or fees.

  • It will necessarily include some revenue shifts to address McCleary obligations. The expected gap between current funding for programs and this baseline budget is somewhere between $1.2-$2 billion.
  • AWC has been told this budget, while not what the Governor wants, will drastically reduce revenues used and needed by cities – assume no Public Works Trust Fund and reductions, if not elimination of liquor, criminal justice, and small city assistance funding.

The Governor will, on the same day, unveil the budget he would like. It will include new revenues of some magnitude, and will fund what he thinks is important and necessary.

We do not know the specifics on this either, but we expect that it will fund many of the issues cities are advocating for in our 2015 Agenda.

  • AWC Board leadership met recently with the Governor to share our emerging priorities and, in particular, stressed the importance of him showing support in this budget for sharing of some of the state’s anticipated recreational marijuana excise taxes.
  • You can anticipate AWC will keep you posted on what is contained in both budgets, and will communicate with the Governor about our views.

Cities and counties are united in wanting the state to maintain the partnership that allows communities to prosper, and generates the revenues that fuel and support state services and investments.

In some past years, city and county interests did not always align. This year, both AWC and the Washington State Association of Counties are working to:

  • Retain and enhance local control over matters important to our communities,
  • Stand united against new unfunded mandates,
  • Promote more flexibility in how current revenues are spent, and
  • Consider new optional revenue authorities to address local needs.

Senators are returning to Olympia later this week to meet and discuss their agendas and caucus leadership for the upcoming session. House members will do the same during the first week of December.

Operation: Strong Cities

AWC staff wishes to thank the hundreds of city officials who we have met with us over the past several months as we have been out and about sharing how YOU can help cities stay strong. Please visit the Operation: Strong Cities page on our website over the next several weeks to remind yourself of how you can participate, and also to check back for new content as we prepare to help you help your communities.

There are only 55 days left until the start of the 2015 legislative session. If you have not already taken the following actions, please consider giving yourself a goal of completing one or more of the following before the end of the year. Keep in mind these actions help in at least two ways – advancing strong cities, and earning you credits towards AWC’s Certified Municipal Leadership (CML) credential.

  1. Hold legislative meetings that include sharing the status of your city’s budget.
  2. Adopt a legislative agenda (contact me if you need samples or advice).
  3. Form coalitions to help achieve your objectives. Other city and county governments are a great place to start, but do not limit yourself to these obvious allies; think outside of the box. Coalitions should be built with business and education communities as well as public, private, and non-profit sectors.
  4. Give legislators tours of programs and projects that you are proud of, that make your community strong, or things you need help with.
  5. Write an Op-Ed reflecting what the state can, or needs to do for your community (again, if you need help or assistance, let me know. We have some resources that may be helpful).
  6. Rally fellow councilmembers to help advance Operation: Strong Cities.

We want to hear what you have been doing. Send us an email and let us know what you are doing, and what you are hearing as you meet with legislators.