Cheney Free Press -

 
 

By JOHN McCALLUM
Editor 

Cheney's legislative priorities

SR 904 widening, liquor and marijuana sales revenue top list of issues local officials will be monitoring in Olympia

 

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Making sure a project widening SR 904 to five lanes between Cheney and Four Lakes gets included in the state's transportation project list will be a top priority for city officials this legislative session.

City of Cheney officials are hoping the old saying "The best offense is a good defense" proves correct when it comes to the upcoming Washington Legislature's short session.

The Legislature's 60-day mid-biennium session begins Jan. 13, and while there will be a lot on legislator's plates to deal with, Cheney Mayor Tom Trulove doesn't expect much action. Particularly in the House of Representatives, whose members' two-year terms are up this coming fall.

"With legislators looking at upcoming elections, they usually don't want to do too much, unless it's popular with voters," Trulove said.

One thing Trulove said they do expect is a much sought after transportation budget, although he doesn't anticipate Cheney's project, widening of SR 904 to five lanes, to be included in the mix. What city officials do hope is to have the project included in a list for funding in upcoming biennium budgets, preferably earlier than the 2021-2030 timeframe the project received in the Spokane Regional Transportation Council's 40-year plan released in December.

"We want to make sure that what's passed (in the Legislature) includes 904," Trulove said.

Other issues Cheney will be following align closely with the Association of Washington Cities priorities. Topping this is restoration of liquor tax revenues, which cities have shared with the state since Prohibition ended in 1933.

Fifty-nine percent of voters approved Initiative 1193 in November 2011 privatizing liquor sales with the expectation that local governments' share of the revenue would be maintained along with an additional $10 million for public safety programs. According to the AWC, the state has failed this "even though the number of retail outlets has quadrupled and state revenue has increased," resulting in the loss of $10 million to cities and counties.

Cheney's share of this in 2012 amounted to $54,857, and officials say this has been close to $125,000 in past years. The revenue could help fund an additional officer or other public safety resources.

"They (Legislature) need to recognize we're the ones that do the enforcement," Trulove said. "It's not their money."

Another issue is the new industry of recreational marijuana sales. Washington and Colorado became the first states to legalize recreational marijuana through voter-approved initiatives in 2012, even though the federal government still considers the drug illegal.

"I recently said I would uphold the laws of the state and the laws of the U.S. when I took the oath of office," Trulove said about his re-election to a second term in November. "I think I lied."

Trulove said they are supporting the AWC's call to have the state clarify local jurisdictions responsibilities with the new industry while also directing some of the 75 percent tax markup the state is imposing on the drug to local jurisdictions to assist them with local impacts of legalization.

Trulove said the AWC is also going to press for restoration of funding to the Public Works Trust Fund that was transferred to the state's general fund last session to balance the budget. AWC government relations' analyst Dave Catterson said this amounted to $277 million in cash, along with another $89 million of tax revenue diverted to the general fund over the next two years.

The trust fund had been carrying a balance of $1 billion that had been built up through cities and counties funding over the years, money used to provide low-interest loans funding public infrastructure projects.

Outside of the AWC priorities, Cheney officials are going to work on a couple of power-related issues that could affect electrical rates. Voters approved an initiative in 2006 that requires electrical utilities of 25,000 or more customers to meet state-defined targets for using renewable energy sources, sources that have proven to be expensive.

Trulove said 90 percent of the Bonneville Power Administration's electricity comes from hydropower, which the state does not consider a renewable resource. He said the city would join with others to make sure the requirement is not expanded to all utilities.

Finally, Trulove said they would be lobbying for passage of House Bill 2112, a new measure introduced this session that would allow electricity produced through efficiency improvements at hydroelectric facilities to qualify as renewable resources under the federal energy independence act.

John McCallum can be reached at jmac@cheneyfreepress.com.

 

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