Council prepares for 2015 legislative session by focusing on closing revenue structural gap
StoryCounties throughout the state of Washington are facing the challenge of maintaining mandated services while seeing limits on the revenue options available to them. The Metropolitan King County Council today gave its unanimous support to a state legislative agenda that calls on Olympia to provide all counties the revenue options that can help governments reduce the structural revenue gap and help maintain levels of service for an increasing population.
“Maintaining critical services for King County residents is our top priority. Our local economy needs basic infrastructure and security – such as transportation, public safety and water quality – provided in a way that is reliable and certain,” said Council Chair Larry Phillips. “To meet constant growing demand and population growth, we need the right tools at the right time. We look forward to talking with the legislature about ways we can succeed in meeting these needs.”
“Emphasizing regional cooperation to improve infrastructure and to support our economy and jobs, this agenda includes roads and transit, public safety and human services issues,” said Council Vice Chair Jane Hague.
“Our state’s most basic public health services are at risk because of our antiquated tax system,” said Council Vice Chair Joe McDermott. “During the upcoming legislative session, the County will work to find a sustainable funding source to make sure we can protect our communities from communicable diseases and help everyone reach their healthiest potential.”
Each year King County develops a State Legislative Agenda with the Council and the County Executive working together to decide on the positions that are most important to bring to the attention of the State Legislature. For the 2015 session, the County continues to stress the economic impact King County has on the state of Washington. The agenda states that reductions in funding and policy changes on both a state and federal level have had an impact on how the County can deliver services to its residents and that the County must be given the ability to prioritize critical regional needs.
Counties are in a budgeting trap: The state grants counties too few revenue tools and places further constraints on already limited authorities. Without change, counties can never escape this structural revenue gap and cannot maintain current levels of service for an increasing population. King County strongly supports the Washington State Association of Counties (WSAC) Fiscal Sustainability Initiative in partnership with counties statewide.
In 2014, King County stressed the continuing need for funding mechanisms that support both roads and transit service. The county will go back to Olympia and urge the legislature that even if they are unable to develop a statewide transportation funding plan that they provide counties with local revenue options in which preserve the region’s mobility, competitiveness, and quality of life.
“The King County Council’s 2015 state legislative agenda contains significant components that impact the ability for us to implement equity and social justice in our county,” said Councilmember Larry Gossett. “Access to mental health treatment, public transportation for those that are transit dependent, fair and equal treatment by law enforcement and criminal justice agencies and funding for public health clinics are all issues paramount to people leading healthy and productive lives.”
“All Counties need more options in order to fulfill our role as providers of many of the everyday services our citizens rely on,” said Councilmember Kathy Lambert. “Counties are the level of government that helps make society function by providing services like public safety, road maintenance and repair, sewers and public transportation. I am hopeful that our state legislators will be open to discussions about how to provide the required funds to meet the needs of our citizens.”
“Our 2015 Legislative Agenda demonstrates the Council’s unified commitment to transit, transportation and health and human services,” said Councilmember Rod Dembowski. “As the Council’s representative on the Mental Illness & Drug Dependency (MIDD) Oversight Committee, I am particularly interested in our work to strengthen the MIDD. I have seen firsthand that investments in our mental health and chemical dependency programs pay dividends in the form of reduced jail time and costly hospital stays, while helping individuals lead a healthier and more stable life.”
For 2015, the State Legislative Agenda will include:
Revenue Reform: Providing Local Governments with Adequate Tools to Provide Services
• Revise the annual limit on property tax to include inflation and population growth.
• Monitor the mental illness and drug dependency (MIDD) sales tax levy.
• Diversify counties’ revenue sources.
• Provide greater local control over sources like the criminal justice sales tax.
• Modify state law that allows county general fund money based on increased population density to be transferred without consent of counties.
Meaningful Resources for the Safety Net: Meeting our Needs in Mental Health and Beyond
• Support legislative efforts to expand long-term local and state capacity in mental health and substance abuse. This will require a significant commitment to both capital and operating assistance, as well as additional inpatient beds both locally and at state hospitals.
• Adjust the Mental Illness & Drug Dependency (MIDD) levy to better meet the needs of people suffering from mental illness and addiction, including extending the MIDD supplantation language at 30 percent by postponing the planned 2015 stairstep down to 20 percent as originally outlined by state law.
• Amend 2014 legislation for Communities of Health and full integration: support a functional all-payer claims database, and extend the timeline for early adopters of full integration.
• Grant counties dedicated revenue sources for public health to ensure adequate and sustainable funding.
Keep the Region Moving: Delivering on Transportation for Today and Tomorrow
• Support state-level efforts to invest in state projects and in local needs, including unincorporated areas where counties are the only local government available to residents.
• Explore ways to pursue increased transit options, including Sound Transit Phase 3.
• Endorse local revenue options for municipal governments to invest in community infrastructure and services, including unincorporated county roads.
• Honor the state’s commitment to reconnect the Eastside Rail Corridor (ERC) at I-405 (Wilburton).
Unintended Consequences: Keeping State Laws in Alignment with Reality
• Confront any legislative efforts to penalize King County for its settlement with public defenders in accordance with the Dolan v. King County decision in 2011.
• Clarify and integrate the medical cannabis and recreational marijuana statutes to better support effective law enforcement, land use laws, and public health objectives, e.g., deterring youth access.
• Align statute with legislative intent of police accountability through body cameras.
The legislative agenda also calls on the state to maintain salmon preservation efforts by developing a robust set of state and local funding tools for water infrastructure and to ensure the long-term health of Puget Sound. In addition, the agenda includes support for the Cultural Access Fund and the ability to invest in community assets by providing flexibility in administration and investment of hotel/motel revenues that can be used for housing and tourism capital projects.
Read the Legislative Agenda and the State Policy Statement for 2015