This year Seattle set out to challenge a saying that’s often quoted about how the legislature operates: “It’s Republicans against Democrats, East of the mountains against West of the mountains, and everyone against Seattle.” We worked closely with our legislative delegation, reached out around the State with our Seattle for Washington campaign, spent a lot of time in Olympia explaining our goals – and set a realistic legislative agenda (click here for the details).
We have now reviewed what the legislature did this year, and the good news is that we were pretty successful. The budget was, of course, the big issue, and while the major cuts in education and human services programs will be very difficult to manage, we were able to score some successes in fighting off even more drastic reductions and saving some programs. And, even though the budget dominated the session, by limiting our big asks to a few items and focusing attention on small but important pieces of legislation that did not raise major controversies, we were able to have one of our most successful sessions ever.
In the budget, the legislature saved at least some funding for people currently on Disability Lifeline; approved more funding for health programs than initially proposed; and saved the Basic Health Plan (although with frozen enrollment) and the Housing Trust Fund (although with much reduced funding), both of which had been targeted for elimination.
We joined with the Association of Washington Cities to stave off major cuts to the state’s revenue allocations to local governments (we will lose about $350,000 rather than the several million proposed), secure legislation giving us more flexibility in our use of real estate excise tax, and fought off an attempt to exempt hospitals and universities from the commercial parking tax (which would have cut our transportation budget by some $5 million). We joined with King County to win passage of a bill that provides a short-term funding option that could save 600,000 hours of Metro Transit service if adopted by the County Council or voters.
In the Transportation Budget we secured $4 million to improve the NW Market/45th St Transit Corridor and $1.25 million for King Street Station. In the Capital budget, we secured $4 million for the Midvale Stormwater Facility and $6 million for the Airport Way/Argo Bridge reconstruction, as well as $2.4 million in arts funding for the Seattle International Film Festival, Taproot Theater, Seattle Musical Theater, and Town Hall. We were also able to secure an increase in the budget for remediation of sites with toxic contamination and a new grant funding program for stormwater projects.
Among the other pieces of legislation that we successfully advocated for are:
- Legislation giving the police new tools to address the sexual exploitation of minors.
- Legislation reducing sentencing and supervision requirements for persons convicted for the first time of certain minor offenses.
- New penalties for drivers who injure vulnerable roadway users, such as pedestrians and bicyclists.
- Compromise legislation that authorizes local jurisdictions to allow certain private carriers to use transit facilities and lanes (not mandatory, as had been proposed).
- Legislation allowing the King County Flood Control District funding flexibility – we expect to secure $30 million from the District for the Seawall.
- A new program allowing mutual aid agreements between local governments to assist each other in emergencies.
- A set of unified licensing requirements for child care facilities, which will make it much easier for child care providers to use school districts.
- Authority for Seattle to add limousine services to our taxi regulations.
- Legislation to promote water quality by limiting the use of fertilizer containing phosphorus and phasing out copper-based antifouling paint for recreational vessels.
- A law supporting home production of food by exempting ‘cottage food operations’ from certain regulations and permitting requirements.
While all these are positive developments, perhaps the most important success was in preventing any legislation from being adopted that imposes extra costs or penalties on Seattle – steps that have often been taken in the past. We are hopeful that our communication and outreach strategy has turned the corner on creating a new atmosphere of cooperation and mutual goodwill, and intend to keep pursuing that in the future.