To serve as a guide for working with area legislators, Mercer Island 2020 Legislative Priorities were passed by the city council at an Oct. 15 meeting.
The priorities will allow the city to respond to issues of interest that may arise in Washington State Legislative Sessions. With priorities in place, the city hopes the mayor, council and city staff can respond quickly to opportunities to advocate for the city.
The five priorities adopted by the city, which were updated by staff to reflect current conditions and goals, are transportation funding, sustainable local funding, maintaining local control, protecting (city residents’) health, and preserving and protecting the environment.
Ali Spietz, assistant to the city manager, presented the priorities. Subsequential interests are outlined in each of the five categories.
It was noted that, in developing the priorities, the city considered the 2020 legislative priorities and agendas from several regional agencies, including the Association of Washington Cities and the Sound Cities Association. As of the decision, 2020 priorities had not yet been released by the Eastside Transportation Partnership and the King County Cities Climate Collaboration (K4C).
Some examples of successes the city had with its 2019 priorities were listed, including securing $500,000 in state grant money to help fund the trail upgrade project at Aubrey Davis Park as part of the King County Wastewater Division’s North Mercer Sewer Interceptor project.
The transportation category states the city supports legislation that pursues bills or grants that provide new resources and options for local government action, engages regional groups in developing any statewide transportation packages, and delivers solutions to relieve congestion on Interstate 90 and Interstate 405.
The sustainable local funding category states the city supports legislation that would retain state-shared revenues and curtail unfunded mandates, identify funding sources for disaster recovery and emergency response, and preserve city fiscal health with secure funding sources, such as replacing the annual 1-percent cap on property tax revenues with a growth limit that equals inflation plus the rate of population growth and removing restrictions on real estate excise tax revenues.
The category on maintaining local control states that the city aims to preserve control relating to land use planning and also supports identifying funding for the planning of updates from the state’s Growth Management Act (GMA). The city would support extending the grant cycle for House Bill 1923 — in which cities can increase residential building capacity and receive grant funding — into 2020, and also extending the timeline for approving a qualifying local tax under House Bill 1406 — which encourages cities to invest in affordable housing in exchange for a share of state tax revenue, so cities can put a levy on the ballot after enacting the tax.
The fourth priority, on protecting health, states the city encourages legislation that supports mental health counseling and social emotional learning in all schools, and that pursues new resources and policies to increase affordable housing at the state and local levels.
Priority five, preserving and protecting the environment, has the most subpoints. It states the city encourages partnerships and legislation that supports, “progressive clean energy, climate protection, or other environmental health measures.”
It also lists examples of measures and goals such as enacting a statewide price on carbon pollution that reinvests into emission reduction efforts, expanding incentives for distributed solar energy generation, and strengthening the state energy code that encourages net-zero emissions buildings. Further, it lists supporting an accelerated timeline to retire fossil fuel energy supplies from Puget Sound Energy use and reducing transportation related emissions by supporting public transit, fleet electrification, commute reduction programs and cleaner fuel standards.
Year to year
In pointing out the few differences between last year’s priorities and this year’s, Spietz said last year’s priority about transportation was more specific to the Island while this year’s is a little broader. She said they were thinking about potential election outcomes such as the passing of Initiative 976, which will limit car tab fees to $30, thus eliminating major tax revenue streams previously earmarked for transportation projects across the state.
“There will be a lot of changes if Iniative 976 passes that will impact transportation everywhere,” she said. “I think that these specific goal statements or issues are local jurisdictions wanting there to be something comprehensive that the Legislature puts together. We still have congestion issues on I-90 and I-405, and if funding for that is gone we still need a solution.”
I-976 is passing statewide in the results of the Nov. 5 General Election, but did not pass in a couple of counties, including King County. The initiative likely will see legal challenges.
Councilmember Benson Wong suggested adding support for the full funding of the state’s public works trust fund into the sustainable local funding category, which was agreed upon by the rest of the council and is to be added by staff.
Overall Spietz said, “there is not a lot of difference between last year’s and this year’s.”
Wong said he thought it would be important, in the future, to discuss with their 41st District representatives and state senator to have more information to build objectives from.
“Frankly, we can hopefully together identify particular issues that are, sort of, not unique but pertain to Mercer Island,” he said. “I know that we’ve tried to do that in the past and scheduling is always a problem, but it’s something we should strive for.”
Spietz said that in polling city staff and council members she hadn’t heard anything specific, and, with it also being a short session, they don’t have anything specific proposed.
“We don’t have anything for this short session, but I think in preparation for the long session in 2021 we can spend a little bit of time seeing what else is out there for us,” Spietz said.
Mayor Debbie Bertlin said that in talks with representatives she had not heard any sort of theme or a drive around key initiatives.
A motion to adopt the legislative agenda priorities, with the revision regarding the state’s public works trust fund, passed unanimously. The 2020 state regular session is a short session scheduled to begin on Jan. 13, 2020, and end by March 13.