Cities realistic about legislative session

With a 60-day session set to start in the Legislature in less than two weeks — that’s compared to 2015’s record 176-day, three-special-session odyssey — city government leaders in Snohomish County are keeping their expectations realistic.

The lawmakers’ focus for the next 60 days will be on a supplemental budget and on making progress in finding a funding solution for K-12 education, so the coalition of cities in Snohomish County is setting its sights on keeping discussions alive on concerns and programs as they meet with lawmakers and follow the session.

In concert with the statewide Association of Washington Cities, the county coalition will press a range of issues with the county’s legislative contingent and other lawmakers, said the coalition’s president Edmonds Mayor Dave Earling. Among them:

Government agencies throughout the state are struggling to fulfill time-consuming and costly requests for public records that can range from legitimate request for government documents by the media and other groups to demands for records that border on the ridiculous. Among the more onerous recently was an anonymous request in late 2014 for all Snohomish County Sheriff Office documents going back to 1776 and another anonymous request for all data from some 1,000 cell phones used by county employees.

Officials don’t want to shut down legitimate requests for information, said Mill Creek City Councilman Mike Todd, but the requests are putting an increasing burden on city and other governments. Government agencies currently are gathering information beyond anecdotes to outline for lawmakers how much of their budgets are going toward fulfilling the requests, with the hope to advance legislation in 2017.

Cities also are hoping to see some protection for a program that provides low-interest loans for road maintenance and other public works projects. The trust fund, rather than built up with new funding in recent budget rounds, instead is seen as a source of revenue by lawmakers and the governor. There is some money available as loans are paid back, but it’s being depleted, Todd said.

The governor, in this year’s supplemental budget, uses $10 million from the fund to shore up spending on mental health issues. Todd and Earling don’t argue with that need, but say the public works fund helps cities complete needed maintenance at lower costs than bonds, provides short-term jobs, and then is paid back to fund other projects.

Officials in the county were pleased with the $670 million in projects for the county outlined in the transportation budget, but Earling said, much of that spending is spread out over the next 16 years.

Edmonds, for example, is getting $10 million to revitalize Highway 99, improving traffic flow and aiding commercial development, but the funding won’t be available for six years. Cities would like to see an advance on part of allocated funding to allow for planning to begin, spending that also could get planning work started sooner on U.S. 2 and its trestle and Highway 522, Earling said.

The cities coalition also had hoped to see money in the supplemental budget for four agriculture degree programs at WSU’s North Puget Sound program in Everett, a marine engineering program at UW Bothell and a science, technology, engineering and mathematics building at Edmonds Community College. Only the EdCC building was included in the governor’s supplemental budget.

Speaking with a more unified voice is a relatively new approach for the cities, Earling said, but it has paid dividends by increasing visibility for the county’s needs among lawmakers. This year, visibility may have to be enough.

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