OLYMPIA – The state House and Senate budgets offer vastly different approaches to the problems facing Washington’s cities, counties and other local governments. Rep. Tana Senn (D-Mercer Island), who chairs the House bipartisan local government caucus, finds the Senate budget priorities disturbing.
“I am shocked by the deep cuts to public safety, homelessness, pensions and mental health in the Senate budget,” Senn said. “Local governments repeatedly ask us to help address these issues with additional resources, not with cuts that will only serve to exacerbate already financially-strapped localities.”
“Every legislative session is an opportunity to make a difference and solve the major challenges facing our state,” said Senn. “The House budget invests hundreds of millions of dollars in families and communities. The Senate Republican budget not only puts off our moral obligations to help the homeless, improve the lives of foster kids, and fix our mental health care system for another year, they do real, long-term damage to the financial security of our local governments.”
- Increase costs to send officers to the Basic Law Enforcement Academy – With a growing demand for, and cost of, police cadets as a portion of city, county and University of Washington budgets, they cannot afford shouldering a greater percent of the costs. “The Basic Law Enforcement Academy provides training for officers in support of cities and counties. An increase in staff costs us nine months of pay before they show up in our town. That is already a lot for us to pay. If that amount increases, it may force us to forego any more new officers,” said Rich Crispo, Mayor of Newcastle.
- While the House budget includes $60 million to address the homelessness crisis, the Senate Republican budget does very little to address homelessness and affordable housing.
- Eliminate the Fire Insurance Premium Tax, which helps localities meet their obligations for the Law Enforcement Officers’ and Fire Fighters’ Plan 1 (LEOFF 1) retirement and medical benefits.
- Raid of the LEOFF 1 retirement system – The Senate Republican budget raids surplus LEOFF funds and transfers those funds to TRS 1, the retirement fund for teachers. This has the potential to destabilize the LEOFF 1 retirement fund, which could result in unfunded liability for local governments. This huge policy shift did not receive a public airing through the regular hearing process and needs significantly more discussion to even consider moving it forward.
- While the House budget invests $47 million to continue fixing the state’s mental health care system, the Senate budget raids the long-term developed reserves (over $50 million) of the Regional Support Networks for onetime expenses.
- Eliminate funding for the Municipal Research and Services Center (MRSC), which provides valuable research services to small and medium cities that don’t have adequate resources to provide those services within their own organizations. “MRSC provides access to information about essential governmental functions, including legislative updates, public records act case law, open public meetings act regulations, and public bidding best practices,” explained Ali Spietz, Education Coordinator for the Washington Municipal Clerks Association and City Clerk/Public Records Officer for the City of Mercer Island.