By BOB SMITH
Kitsap News Group
PORT ORCHARD — Despite the legislative turmoil in the state capital the first half of this year, the City of Port Orchard fared well in achieving its goals in Olympia, according to Chelsea Hagar, a governmental affairs consultant for the city.
Hagar presented an overview to the Port Orchard City Council July 11 of legislative accomplishments and concerns that impact city projects and governmental processes.
The consultant has been working alongside city lobbyist Briahna Murray to advance Port Orchard’s interests in the state Legislature during the 2017 session, now laboring in a third special session with a capital budget yet to be passed.
The lobbyist told council members that without passage of a capital budget as of July 19, three outcomes are possible: an agreement could be reached on the Hirst water-rights issue, which has become the Senate majority coalition caucus’s “line in the sand” preventing final consideration of a capital budget; Gov. Jay Inslee could call another special session in hopes of resolving those issues; or consideration of the capital budget could be dropped in favor of simple reappropriations this session.
To an amused City Council meeting audience, Hager prefaced her legislative presentation with a bit of a loaded statement: “You might be wondering what the Legislature did this session … ”
She said there were some positives for the city emanating from Olympia: “What’s great is that they passed a transportation budget. Which was great for the City of Port Orchard in that within the budget, there was $2 million allocated for the Tremont Street Widening Project, a great success for the city.”
Hagar applauded the efforts of the delegation from the city’s 26th Legislative District, which she said was partially responsible for the additional project funding.
The lobbyist outlined the state’s $43.7 billion biennial budget, which passed on June 30, one day to spare before a threatened government shutdown on July 1. The budget includes $2.6 billion in new revenue, which she said comes from a new tax on bottled water and extracted fuel, which previously had been exempted.
Additionally, Hagar said, a “marketplace fairness act” will be put in place in the next few years to collect sales tax from internet providers.
She said the bottled water tax is expected to generate $7.4 million in local and state sales taxes for cities statewide.
But, Hagar said, the overriding accomplishment for the state Legislature was the creation of a funding mechanism for education that satisfies McCleary case requirements mandated by the state Supreme Court.
“With regard to education, $7.3 billion is going to be spent over the next four years,” she told the City Council audience. “That’s a historical amount of money to be put into that system. The operating budget for the first time is over 50 percent allocated to education, responsive to the McCleary decision.”
While Hager said that just 15 percent of the bills introduced at the beginning of the session were passed, Port Orchard’s legislative priorities made significant headway.
“The priorities we worked on in the Legislature on behalf of the city were the Tremont Street Widening Project, a very important one that we’ve been working on for quite some time. This was the important year for the Legislature to be helpful — and they were.”
Another top priority for Port Orchard in Olympia, she said, was the city’s planned downtown pocket park at the waterfront.
“This project is in the early stages,” she said.
“In this session, we were really just laying the groundwork for future requests. The $309,000 that was included in a House capital budget is promising. That suggests we might be successful in partnership with the state in the future.
“However, the capital budget is in the air and we’re unsure of what the Senate is going to do, so we’ll continue our advocacy and look forward to the future of that project.”
Hagar also identified a priority the lobbyist team sought to advance in legislative circles: building influence through the West Sound Alliance, a consortium of 19 organizations, entities, municipalities, transit agencies and cities with similarly aligned goals.
“The goal is to make sure that we as (the alliance) are bringing forward project requests that have to do with transportation in a way that is conducive to the political climate in Olympia,” she told council members.
“As a collective group, we are more successful, and that’s the goal of the West Sound Alliance.”
Additional priorities that Hagar said were worked on included a bill involving the state growth management act and the comprehensive update plan the city is using. Infrastructure funding this year also has been on the lobbyists’ radar.
One issue that has sparked some controversy — public records act reform — has made progress in the state Legislature, she said.
“This is another issue that has taken many years to reach this point,” Hagar said.
“Two bills ultimately passed the Legislature and there were a number of really great changes within those bills.”
Those changes included granting cities the ability to charge fees for access to electronic records. She said agencies could deny requests from those who ask for records. “Lots of times those (requests) are ‘fishing expeditions’ and can be costly.”
Immediate concerns for cities statewide, Hagar said, includes the just-passed legislation creating a paid family leave program.
Washington is one of only five states that have a similar program, which is an additional funding obligation for the future, she said.