WSAC Legislative Bulletin

2018 Sine Die Edition

Anyone who follows WSAC on social media knows we have been sending a pretty strong message about the 2018 legislative session. This might seem odd to some, considering the rosy messages coming from other organizations.

Why are counties so disappointed this year? In order to answer this question, one must understand that counties are in a much more difficult financial situation than the state. While the state’s revenue forecast grew 15% this last biennium, many counties have only recently seen revenues hit 2008 levels.

Burdened with an untenable structural deficit between cost and revenue increases, counties, even in a robust and recovering economy, are making cuts, using reserves, and diverting road funds for general expenses. These budget tactics work in the short term, but they are not sustainable over time.

WSAC has been sending this message for six consecutive sessions, while proposing solutions that would both give them authority to control their costs and address revenue problems.

Last year the legislature imposed a significant property tax increase, exempting the state property tax levy from the 1% cap on growth. Counties have asked for relief from the 1% cap for 4 years, but were left behind when the legislature helped themselves.

For two years counties have asked the legislature to begin increasing the amount the state contributes to counties’ trial court indigent defense costs. 31 states provide at least 50% of funding, while Washington continues to provide less than 5%.

The legislature had $1.2 billion in new revenue this session, and spent none of it on counties’ request for trial court indigent defense funding.

In fact, the legislature didn’t even spend any of that money to pay for last year’s requirement that counties install more ballot boxes. Nor did the legislature decide to pay counties for the cost of the state’s own elections. Every other government entity pays for their elections, why can’t the state? The legislature actually made things worse for counties this year, passing new policy bills that will make it even more expense to operate county government – to the tune of about $15.5 million a year.

Each time the legislature passes another local mandate without commensurate revenue, counties are forced to make choices on which services they will continue to provide, and those they won’t. All session long we asked the legislature to pay for the cost of its new policies. When a handful of courageous legislators stood up for counties and cities against a couple of these new unfunded mandates, the response from legislative leaders was to strip WSAC’s already limited requests from the final budget in retribution.

In an era of prosperity and the largest state expenditures in state history, after the 2018 legislative session counties will be forced to reduce services to our residents. 

Josh Weiss Policy and Legislative Relations Director, General Counsel Washington State Association of Counties