King County leaders ask lawmakers to preserve roads, services

January 30, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

NEW — 6 a.m. Jan. 30, 2012

In a broad agenda for the ongoing legislative session, King County leaders pledged to work alongside state lawmakers to preserve funding for human services, preserve roads and consolidate some local government operations.

The plan comes from the King County Council as legislators in Olympia must close a $1.5 billion budget gap. Local leaders raised concerns about cuts to services and transportation — perpetual concerns as lawmakers trimmed spending in recent years.

“A growing number of county residents are now accessing services and agencies that are facing devastating cuts in Olympia,” council Chairman Larry Gossett said in a statement. “This will be one of the most difficult legislative sessions ever, so it is vital that King County speak in a clear voice about our priorities regarding human services and transportation.”

County leaders develop a state legislative agenda to decide on the positions most important to bring to the attention of the Legislature. The plan combines input from council members and County Executive Dow Constantine.

The council adopted a legislative agenda Jan. 17. Legislators gathered in Olympia for the 60-day session Jan. 9.

“King County, like the state, has had to face a difficult budget reality over the last several years,” council Vice Chairwoman Jane Hague said. “It’s important that the county use coordinated strategies and alliances in order to promote a strong regional and statewide economy.”

Local priorities for the legislative session include reform to human services. County leaders called on lawmakers to support funding for food assistance, domestic violence prevention, housing and services for low-income and homeless people.

“The state’s budget cuts may mean dramatic blows to the county’s most basic services, like our public health clinics,” Councilwoman Julia Patterson said. “King County’s legislative agenda will help guide our work with the Legislature during the 2012 session as we address this reality.”

Officials said local governments need the ability to generate additional revenue at the council level and through voter measures to accommodate future needs. The agenda includes a measure to increase county government’s revenue options.

In the last session, legislators gave King County the ability to impose a fee to maintain Metro Transit bus service. In the ongoing session, county leaders called on the state to prove additional support for local and regional transportation needs.

“We successfully saved Metro Transit service for at least two more years, but we must continue the push to partner with the state Legislature on long-term, stable funding for transit and other tools to recover our economy,” Councilman Larry Phillips said.

County officials also asked the Legislature to consolidate special districts’ governance structure. The county has special districts for oversight on specific issues — the King County Ferry District and the King County Flood Control District. The council sits as the oversight board for both districts.

State legislators remain for the measures to create special districts. The county asked the Legislature to allow the council to consolidate certain aspects of the districts, such as governance and oversight.

“After four years of successful flood and ferry district operations, the proposed consolidation would allow us to enhance services and continue our efforts in managing costs,” said Councilman Joe McDermott, King County Ferry District chairman.

County officials invested more than $1 million last year to address gang violence. Now, officials called on state legislators to invest in youth violence prevention programs. The county also supports reforming the law related to firearm possession by juveniles to allow for escalating penalties if the suspect has a record of unlawful possession charges.

“Gangs and gang violence are problems that cross the boundaries of local jurisdictions and require a state response,” Councilman Bob Ferguson said. “Intervention and prevention programs are critical to keeping our kids and communities safe and deserve to be funded.”

(Ferguson, a Democrat, is a candidate for state attorney general and Issaquah-area Councilman Reagan Dunn is a Republican candidate for the post.)

Local leaders also asked the state to continue to focus on workforce training and other measures to retain and attract aerospace jobs in King County.

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