Help is on the way to Washington cities and counties, which are struggling to maintain services during the economic downturn without piling on additional taxes.
Gov. Chris Gregoire today signed a pair of bills proposed by Rep. Larry Springer (D-Kirkland) that will give local governments immediate relief from costly state mandates and provide more flexibility in how they can use existing revenues.
“Local leaders and citizens throughout the state asked for alternatives to slashing services or raising taxes, and we found ways to help during the worst fiscal climate we’ve seen in generations,” said Springer, a former Kirkland mayor who now represents the 45th District in the House of Representatives..
One of the new laws, the Fiscal Relief for Cities and Counties bill (HB 1478), drew support from across the political spectrum after lawmakers heard how temporarily delaying several non-urgent state mandates could save financially-stressed local governments millions of dollars.
City and county officials told lawmakers that the state could help them save essential local services by giving them more time to meet a variety of paperwork requirements and a mandate that local governments convert their vehicle fleets to run on electricity or biofuels by 2015. The vehicle mandate alone would impose millions of dollars of added local government costs at a time when communities are being forced to cut services to stay afloat.
“The Fiscal Relief bill will significantly reduce the regulatory costs imposed on cities and will provide greater flexibility in capital budgeting,” said current Kirkland Mayor Joan McBride. “The bill was carefully crafted to provide temporary relief while still preserving environmental protection and the quality of life for the residents of Kirkland and Washington.”
“Representative Springer and our entire local legislative delegation were exceptionally creative and effective in Olympia this session, not only for the City of Kirkland but on behalf of all Washington cities,” McBride said.
A second measure signed today (HB 1953), dubbed the REET Flexibility Bill, allows local governments to use existing Real Estate Excise Tax collections to pay for the maintenance and operation of parks and other existing capital projects until 2016. The funds can also be used for debt service on existing capital projects. Until now, cities and counties could only use these revenues to finance the development of new projects.
“This is a good law that provides financial relief to local governments without authorizing even a dime in new taxes,” said Springer. “It simply gives localities more flexibility to use their existing revenues to weather the economic storm.”
The Washington Association of Realtors—which is usually skeptical about bills that aim to change how real estate excise taxes are used—joined cities and counties in support of Springer’s REET flexibility bill.
“The Association of Washington Cities has worked for years to give local communities more flexibility in how they can use locally collected Real Estate Excise Taxes,” said Ashley Probart, Legislative and Policy Advocate for the Association of Washington Cities. “We appreciate the efforts of Larry Springer and our partnership with the Washington Association of Realtors for making this important bill happen.”