Deadlines hit for action on policy bills – a critical time to connect from home with your Legislators!
Legislation that changes state statutes must go through a policy committee before being considered by either the House or Senate. This week was the deadline for such bills to move forward for further consideration. The Olympian newspaper published a broad overview of which policy bills are dead at the first cut-off, click here for details. Bills that have a fiscal impact on the state also must be considered by a fiscal committee. The deadline for those moving forward is Tuesday, February 7. Those bills that are still alive at that time then need to pass either the House or Senate by Valentine’s Day to remain in play – at least technically.
During the week of February 6, legislators will be focusing their time and energy on floor action – endless hours of caucusing, dashing back and forth to talk to lobbyists and constituents, waiting anxiously for bills they support to come up for a vote, or working to make sure ones they oppose never surface.
This is an important time for you to connect from home – by phone, text, or email, to let them know where you stand on the issues. Within this Bulletin you’ll find information about key bills and budget issues we’re working on your behalf. You also can check out our new online BillTracker system to get timely information on some of the most critical legislation.
Key city legislation
Several of AWC’s priority pieces of legislation are moving forward, including bills to:
- Provide revenue sustainability for cities and counties
- Provide local transportation revenue options
- Make changes relating to public records
- Modify SEPA
- Provide gang prevention and intervention grants
Some bills are stalled – most notably, our efforts to provide opportunities for city and county cost savings. Other bills would be detrimental to city interests and we are spending a considerable amount of effort to stop or modify them – like the state takeover of local business taxes and business licenses. More information on these bills can be found in each section of the Bulletin.
Sounds of budget crunching emerging – City revenues at HIGH risk!
The most critical decisions legislators need to make this session involve how to address the state’s $1.5 billion budget gap (at least $500 million of which is for reserves). House budget writers are working feverishly to craft, test with their members, and release a budget soon after the next state revenue forecast on February 16. Based on what little we know, proposed cuts to local governments could be severe.
As we’ve reported over the last several months, legislators and the Governor point to the fact that only 25 percent or less of the overall budget can be subject to cuts, due to constitutional or other legal constraints on the remaining portions. Housed within the portion of the state’s budget available for cuts are most of the revenues shared with cities and counties.
Key among those are liquor profits and taxes shared with cities for 78 years – since the end of prohibition. Approximately $50 million per year is distributed among cities and is used by every city in Washington to help support general fund activities – of which public safety is often the direct beneficiary. Passage this past fall of I-1183 (Privatizing the Sale of Liquor) occurred in part because proponents crafted it to include protection of at least some of these funds distributed to cities. However, some 35 percent of funds now available appear not to be protected by I-1183 and both the Governor and legislative budget writers are eyeing them to help backfill the state’s budget gap. Some legislators also may attempt to take more – which we consider unattainable for the next two years without a two-thirds vote because it would be contrary to provisions of I-1183.
Cuts in these and other shared revenues are likely inevitable. At issue are which ones, how much, and for how long (temporary in times of fiscal stress or permanent)? Also connected to this discussion is the possibility of reforms that might help to reduce your costs and give you better tools to stabilize local revenues.
As noted earlier, our cost-savings legislation (HB 2641) is floundering and our general fund revenue options bills (HB 2728/SB 6521) are likely on life support. If the Legislature is going to reduce shared revenues, cities and counties need real and immediate cost-savings help and tools to help generate their own revenue. We realize, however, that these tools and options are not the final answer. Cuts to state-shared revenues will impact every city and we know that not every city will be able to use the provisions in these bills.
While budget writers and legislators mill around and work next week to pass policy bills before the budget is unveiled, it’s a great time to connect with your legislators and send a clear message:
- We realize we are not immune to cuts and we need help and authority to reduce and manage our costs.
- Most of the easy choices for cost reductions have already been made at the local and state level. Difficult choices remain and we’re sympathetic to that.
- Preserve our long-standing partnership when it comes to revenue sharing such as liquor taxes and profits, a source of revenue we have shared with the state for more than 70 years.
- Apply any cuts to our revenue uniformly and across the board rather than wholesale elimination of any one source of revenue.
- Make cuts temporary rather than permanent as the Governor initially proposed. If the Legislature wants to permanently eliminate revenue streams, these decisions must be thoughtfully made and provide cities with either the ability to replace those revenues or relief from responsibilities of equal value.