The Legislature returns Monday, January 9, to complete work on state budget cuts begun during their pre-holiday special session. They made a “down payment” of sorts in cutting less than $500 million of the $2 billion in cuts needed to balance the budget and leave a reserve. The remaining reductions will be difficult and unavoidable. They’ll impact cities directly (through reductions in shared revenue) and indirectly (fewer services, higher fees, and strains on infrastructure accounts).
Because this is the second year of a biennial session, legislators must complete work on budget and policy items within 60 days (March 8) – anything longer would require another special session. Budget issues will grab most of their attention, but they will also grapple with numerous policy issues and bills. Some won’t impact cities, but many will. Because cities do so many things and touch the lives of our citizens in so many ways, AWC’s State & Federal Relations team will keep very busy tracking and working on legislation that could harm or help cities.
We report to you each week in this Bulletin on pending legislation of interest and often ask for your input or help contacting your own legislators. Our Bulletin is distributed weekly to over 4300 people – city officials across the state, legislators, state officials and others. It’s structured to give you helpful information by topic area with electronic links to bill details and other resources.
Soon we will be also rolling out BillTracker, a new tool for our members that will make it easier for you to learn about and track AWC’s priority bills and other bills of significant interest to cities. Our hope is that you will find BillTracker to be a valuable complement to the Legislative Bulletin. We are in the final stages of testing BillTracker and we hope to roll it out very soon. Stay tuned.
As needed during the session, you may receive requests for certain information necessary to work on a piece of legislation, or a request to quickly express your views on something to your legislator. We’ll try to limit such requests, but please know when we ask it’s because we really need your input and help.
Thank you for your interest and support. If you have questions, suggestions, or concerns, don’t hesitate to contact me or any one of our great team of lobbyists and analysts. It’s time to lower the gavel and get session underway!
AWC Leadership Shares City Priorities with the Governor
On January 5, AWC’s leadership met with Governor Gregoire to share our 2012 legislative priorities and express their interest in helping make it a productive legislative session.
- President Nancy McLaughlin (Spokane Councilmember) opened the meeting thanking the Governor for her time and for having listened to city concerns and ideas about her initial budget reduction proposals late Fall that would have swept all shared liquor revenue with cities. She also shared ideas on how personnel costs can be contained – an area of shared interest with the Governor, given concerns about state personnel costs.
- Vice President Don Gerend (Sammamish Councilmember) expressed our appreciation for being a part of the Governor’s efforts to find and implement transportation funding strategies – especially to help both locals and the state maintain and preserve what we’ve got. There was a lively exchange on how best to move forward on that. He also promoted the need to streamline environmental reviews under the State Environmental Protection Act (SEPA) as a way to facilitate good development – something the Governor responded to positively. So, too, did she respond to being given a copy of a letter circulating for signature by interested mayors that indicates support for her efforts to reclassify medical marijuana use at the federal level, from a Schedule 1 drug to a Schedule 2 drug. As a Schedule 1 drug, the federal government considers marijuana to have no medicinal value, so it cannot be prescribed by a doctor or dispensed by a pharmacy. Schedule 2 drugs are recognized as having legitimate medical uses.
- AWC Secretary Craig George (Mayor of Dayton) acknowledged that cities know we’re not immune to state budget cuts and that our interests continue to be how much, from which sources, and for how long? The Governor understood and the issue was left there as attention now turns to working with legislators as they craft their budget.
- Past President Kathy Turner (Mayor of Puyallup) didn’t run for re-election, so that position is ably filled by Glenn Johnson (Mayor of Pullman) who shared ongoing concerns about how a few people around the state abuse public records request laws intended to make sure cities and other public entities are transparent – something cities support. He also expressed concern about potential impacts in our communities of drastically reduced state services. On both fronts, the Governor was sympathetic and engaged.
- Also present was AWC’s CEO Mike McCarty and Legislative Director Dave Williams. Mike reminded the Governor of the importance of retaining local control over locally-imposed taxes – an area of some disagreement as the Governor later in the day announced her intentions to consolidate state and local B&O and business licensing at the state level (see the Municipal finance section for more details). Dave spoke of concerns that the Draft Phase II Municipal Stormwater Permit is asking cities to do too much, too fast, and that we hoped the Governor was open to ideas on how to phase in new requirements on an alternative schedule. She indicated she was open and has asked her Department of Ecology Director to work with us.
Meetings like this provide an excellent opportunity to share views on issues of importance to cities, as well as to the Governor. We appreciate her ongoing willingness to listen and consult, as well as the accessibility of her and her staff when cities need to talk.