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On MLK Day, January 16th, a group of Councilmembers braved the threatening weather and trekked to Olympia for our first visit of the session. Led by Council President Sally Clark, Councilmembers Tom Rasmussen, Sally Bagshaw, and I joined our Office of Intergovernmental Relations staff and split up to visit some two dozen legislators to talk about how we can work together and to review some of the issues that are of highest concern to Seattle.
We focused on the priorities of our Legislative Agenda: mitigating and adapting to the impact of State budget cuts, with a special emphasis on protecting the most vulnerable through funding for human services, public health, and other critical areas such as the Housing Trust Fund; supporting funding for education; finding ways to encourage jobs and promote economic development; and supporting public safety and ensuring the fiscal health of local governments. We also talked with legislators about funding for transportation, most importantly long- term funding for Metro bus services, but also for major projects such as SR 520 and more flexible resources for local transportation priorities. Our core messages were:
- We want to be partners in working with the legislature to find ways to address the State’s budget problems; we will support efforts to close revenue loopholes and find new sources of revenues.
- The City’s budget is also stretched, with little ability to raise revenues, and we are likely to have to pick up the problems when state services are cut.
- So we asked that the legislature be mindful of these realities when considering reducing funding that cities receive from the State. If there are specific responsibilities that are transferred from State to local government, give us the authority to raise revenues to fund them (“no devolution without revenue authority”).
We were also there to carry our message of concern about the Governor’s proposal to transfer the responsibility for collecting local cities’ Business and Occupation (B&O) taxes to the State. Our analysis shows that this would cost the State a significant amount of funds to develop the software, that the benefits of centralization to businesses are much more limited than has been suggested, and that there are significant downside risks for cities if the proposed legislation is adopted, potentially in the $20 to $40 million range annually for Seattle.
We received a warm reception from the legislators that we met with. The continued outreach that we are doing (and that I expanded through my Seattle for Washington initiative as Council President), has made Seattle much more welcome in the legislature than we have been in earlier times. There will always be issues that we have disagreements about and challenges in reaching our goals, but the relationship has changed, and that can make a huge difference in how we work these out so that Seattle’s interests and those of the State can be brought into harmony as often as possible.
Councilmembers will keep visiting Olympia during the session on specific issues. We will also send another group of Councilmembers down on President’s Day to keep building relationships and to focus in on the issues that will be most significant as the legislature moves into the key decision making time at the end of the 60 day session. By then, we should have a good idea as to what critical issues from our legislative agenda will be most timely and where we will have the best opportunity for successful advocacy.