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Published on Monday, April 27, 2015

Legislative overtime – City priorities are still in the game, but don’t expect help unless you keep asking for it

Calling it quits after 103 days in legislative session, the House and Senate will be back in Olympia to negotiate beginning Wednesday, April 29. The extra session is due to sparring over state budgets, which are due by July 1 or state government shuts down. If the Legislature is not successful within 30 days, they can try again in another special session. We’re confident they’ll reach an agreement, but it may take time.

We’re also optimistic that the Governor and legislators in both chambers have heard and understand the value and importance of addressing AWC priorities this year. This optimism doesn’t mean it will be easy to address important shared revenues like liquor and marijuana taxes, passing a robust transportation package, or funding critical programs like the Public Works Trust Fund. While there seems to be support for doing so, in slightly different ways, the fact is how our priorities are addressed relies upon operating, capital, and transportation budget decisions that legislators will be hammering out over the next 30 or 60 days.

Cities are still in the game. That’s the great news. Staying in shouldn’t be taken for granted, and we continue to need your voices from home to encourage your legislators to support cities. Until they complete their work, we will ask you to connect with legislators on specific items at different times, depending upon our sense of where their negotiations stand. This week’s Bulletin, and future ones, contain such requests in our Take Action section.

On the surface, House and Senate differences don’t appear large. The House proposes a $38.8 billion operating budget as compared to the Senate’s $37.8 billion one. Both chambers propose similar new gas taxes to fund a robust statewide transportation package, and both propose capital budgets with many important projects. The differences lie in where funds are found and how they’re spent. Action on the transportation and capital budgets won’t happen until agreement is reached on the operating budget. Much of the debate centers on how K-12 education is funded and whether our Supreme Court will be satisfied with whatever they come up with. Remember – legislators are under order to perform on this. We may hear from the Court as early as this week on how they think progress is, or isn’t, being made.

Our chances for helping cities remain vibrant depend upon the continued support of our legislator champions, such as Representatives Chris Reykdal (D-Tumwater) and Terry Nealey (R-Dayton) and Senators Ann Rivers (R-La Center) and Mark Mullet (D-Issaquah), who we thank for their tireless advocacy within their caucuses. They aren’t alone. We also need your supportive voices urging action from your own legislators. We don’t want to find some of our priorities on the cutting room floor as has happened the past two years. When budget negotiators are looking for millions of dollars to fill budget gaps, they tend to look where they’ll find the least noise or resistance. That can’t be cities this year.