Council approves state legislative agenda

With the State Legislature preparing for its January session, the City Council and the Office of Intergovernmental Relations (OIR) have been hard at work drafting the city’s legislative agenda. This afternoon, the Council approved the final version.

By ordinance, city officials are only allowed to lobby other agencies in a manner consistent with the city’s official position on an issue. That, in turn, requires the city to codify its official position in a “legislative agenda” resolution.

The document contains dozens of position statements across a wide range of topics. Few of the positions are surprising, though, and many fall under a few big themes, such as social justice issues, education, and climate and environmental stewardship.

There are many calls for the state to increase funding and other revenue sources (i.e. taxes) for city projects and programs, including:

  • schools;
  • tax credits for renewable energy projects;
  • criminal justice system reform;
  • expanding real estate excise tax;
  • transportation and infrastructure;
  • human services and public health, including homeless programs, mental health and substance abuse programs;
  • stormwater management programs;
  • marijuana industry revenues.

There are some interesting mixed messages as well: it argues for expanding the marijuana business while also increasing opioid addiction treatment programs (and yes, I know that marijuana isn’t an opioid); it emphasizes the importance of freight mobility to the city and region while arguing against oil and coal shipments on local rails and waterways; it supports expanding public safety measures while also pushing hard on police reform. None of these are inherently inconsistent, but it’s a clear demonstration of the complexities and nuances of setting policy.

Many of the Council members’ pet policies are also in the legislative agenda, including affirming the “sanctuary city” status, firearm regulation, addressing the homelessness and affordable housing crises, repealing the statewide ban on rent control, and changing state law to allow the city to use a credit union instead of a big corporate bank for its routine banking services.

What’s missing from the legislative agenda is a sense of priorities. OIR has limited staff and resources, and can’t push for all of the dozens of policy items in the document, but nowhere is it stated which issues should consume the bulk of their time in lobbying the state legislature. That doesn’t mean the document isn’t valuable in educating legislators as to the city’s positions on diverse topics, but it doesn’t provide great marching orders for OIR. It feels a bit like the Council and Mayor took the easy way out, avoiding the hard and controversial work of deciding what not to include by sticking everything in there, though it satisfies OIR’s need to have an “official position” on anything and everything in case they are asked for one. And yet, it’s impossible to tell which are the items the city wants to spend political capital on in Olympia trying to get passed.

There’s also not much in the legislative agenda about growing the economy, beyond a vague statement about support for “tax increment financing” as a tool to encourage economic development, another supporting “investment in thriving local industries,” and another about fostering the development of Business Improvement Areas. Arguably that’s because job growth has been strong (though not broad-based — it’s largely driven by Amazon) and most of the attention has been on dealing with the negative side effects of growth: housing, transportation, etc. But with the city predicting job growth to slow in the near future, it might be wise for Seattle’s elected officials to get more specific about building resilience to tech and retail sector downturns.

The resolution passed unanimously today (though only five of the nine Council members were present), so the OIR can now get to work in Olympia. One the state legislative session gets underway on January 9th, OIR will be delivering regular reports back to the Council on progress.