Vancouver talking tough with the state
The state legislature is in contempt of court for a lack of progress in fixing the way it pays for public education. State lawmakers also have to contend with the end of psychiatric boarding and may, depending on the results from next week’s election, have to deal with a new law limiting class size.
Considering the city of Vancouver’s No. 1 priority for the 2015 legislative session is, “No unfunded or underfunded mandates and no preemption of local control,” city policymakers aren’t exactly setting the bar high. But they also want state lawmakers to know how they feel.
During a Monday workshop with city’s “dynamic duo,” as Mayor Tim Leavitt called them, lobbyists Mark Brown and Jim Justin warned the council about the unpleasantness ahead.
“It has the potential to be a perfect storm,” said Brown, listing not only the McCleary and mental health rulings but the increasing costs of pensions — because retired public employees are living longer, which, Brown said, is a good thing — and cost of living increases for teachers and state employees.
“Any lobbyist who has vacation plans before next July probably isn’t a very good lobbyist,” Brown said. He said cities will have to propose narrowly focused agendas. The city is asking for a $3 million “local projects” grant for the Waterfront Park project, and has five designated priorities for transportation package including rebuilding the Mill Plain Boulevard/Interstate 5 interchange and two new interchanges on SR-500 at Falk Road/Northeast 42nd and Stapleton Road/Northeast 54th.
Then Brown said something that shocked me.
“The other dynamic that will be in play next January is hyper partisanship,” Brown said. “Hyper partisanship. Across the board. And that’s not going to make it easier to find middle ground and compromise.”
It gets worse?
Since cities are fed up with, among other things, that the state collects the majority of the new tax revenues generated from development in cities, Brown said he prepared an introduction to the city’s legislative agenda that is worded more strongly than in years past. He told the council that City Manager Eric Holmes had signed off on the intro, which Brown said has some edge to it.
“This is a completely appropriate message for us to send to our legislators, most of whom down here are in fact our friends,” Brown said. “But to let them know that things are going in the wrong direction in terms of the traditional state, local partnership. And I know that every one of you agree with that. And so do most of our local legislators, by the way.”
Here’s the sharp, edgy intro:
“The City of Vancouver is very concerned over recent actions that have negatively impacted the state-city partnership. We are very aware of the fiscal challenge facing the State. However addressing your funding needs by taking away operating and capital funds from cities and ending virtually all state sponsored economic and community development programs is shortsighted and fails to recognize that cities provide the means by which we grow our economy and generate more revenue for the State. Your future is tied to our future and strong cities will equal a strong State of Washington.”