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Published on Monday, February 23, 2015

Hundreds of city officials hit Olympia to hear if shared revenues are safe

Last week, city officials converged upon Olympia from all 49 legislative districts to learn whether or not leaders have a plan to balance the state’s budget without again dipping in to liquor funds and the Public Works Assistance Account, which help cities address public safety and infrastructure demands. What they heard was somewhat reassuring, but not a promise.

This year’s City Action Days conference provided opportunities to hear from and interact with Governor Inslee, leadership of House and Senate Republicans and Democrats, and the Chairs of the fiscal committees in both chambers. All of them noted that revenue is increasing. Where they differed is whether or not there is enough to meet priorities without some new revenue source.

The Governor, House and Senate Democratic leaders, and the House Republican leader, all stated they don’t want to balance their budget on the backs of local governments. That was reassuring. Senate Republican speakers were non-committal at this point in the session on how they would prioritize spending.

Other highlights of the conference included:

  • An interactive panel discussion about the budget among representatives of the business, education and human services communities. Interestingly, all seemed to agree that our current tax system needs some adjustments to address 21st century challenges and opportunities. What those changes might be, and how soon they could be addressed, wasn’t agreed upon.
  • Updates on numerous pieces of legislation moving along that address marijuana. Discussed was how best to integrate and regulate the recreational and medical industries, as well as provisioning some portion of new tax revenues to cities and counties.
  • Numerous city leaders testified in support of the Senate moving forward on a package of bills aimed at efficiently funding investments in state and local transportation projects. Dozens of other city officials signed a letter urging Senate action in hopes of allowing serious and fruitful negotiations with the House to commence.
  • City attendees were joined during several parts of the Conference by their peers from county governments. During a year when the fiscal sustainability of both cities and counties is being seriously discussed, it was an important and genuine display of common purpose and made it clear, any failure to address our concerns won’t be because we aren’t united.

Capping off the event, numerous city and county officials gathered in the Capitol Rotunda to hear from several legislators who started their careers in local government. Fifty-one of the 147 legislators currently serving in Olympia have roots in city or county government. Those speaking shared their views of the importance of the state and local government partnerships and urged city and county officials across the state to keep reminding them, and their colleagues, that a strong and vibrant state is only possible if our communities remain vital.