Lobbyist pushes Issaquah priorities in state Legislature
February 12, 2013
By Warren Kagarise
The top priorities for Issaquah leaders during the legislative session stem from efforts to reduce traffic congestion in the city and revitalize Lake Sammamish State Park.
The proposals could receive a boost in Olympia from a lobbyist hired by Issaquah leaders to steer state dollars to local projects.
Lobbyist Doug Levy started in the job in July 2012, after the City Council made a contentious decision to hire a lobbyist in Olympia for $52,000 per year — a $48,000 fee, plus expenses. City leaders then developed a list of priorities to guide Levy in the Capitol.
In the meantime, a former councilman, Democrat Mark Mullet, joined the state Senate and also started championing Issaquah issues.
Levy briefed council members Jan. 29 — 14 days into the 105-day session, before major legislation reached the floor in the state House of Representatives and the state Senate.
“I sort of view the first few weeks of a legislative session as a little bit like a boxing match, with the boxers feeling each other out,” he said at a Committee-of-the-Whole Council meeting. “I think that’s particularly true this year in the Washington State Legislature, because we have such a new dynamic going on.”
The dynamic Levy referred to emerged in the days before the session opened Jan. 14, after Medina Democrat Rodney Tom and Potlatch Democrat Tim Sheldon joined Republicans to create a 25-24 majority in the Senate.
The group elected Tom as majority leader and parties split control of committees. The shakeup bumped Mullet from incoming assistant majority whip, or the lawmaker responsible for tracking legislation and lining up votes on bills, to assistant minority whip.
(Until redistricting in 2011, Tom represented some Issaquah neighborhoods.)
The change did affect local leaders’ priorities in Olympia.
Issaquah is focused on securing state dollars for a transportation improvement district in North Issaquah near Costco headquarters and high-traffic retail centers.
Budget could nix local projects
In December, then-Gov. Chris Gregoire included $5 million for the project in the proposed 2013-15 state budget. The money is meant for the city to help purchase environmentally sensitive areas, design and construct pedestrian and bicycle trails, and enact other improvements.
Gov. Jay Inslee is also at work on a budget proposal for the Legislature, and the plan could change or remove the suggested dollars for Issaquah. House and Senate members also create separate budget proposals.
Levy said support for a statewide transportation package is far from certain, due to the shift in the Senate and other priorities on legislators’ docket.
“I think I would candidly tell you I don’t know if there’s a big buzz in Olympia right now around the need for a transportation investment package,” he said. “That obviously could change. I think we have a House transportation chair who is going to put the pedal to the metal and believes that there needs to be a transportation package brought out in 2013.”
Mercer Island Democrat Judy Clibborn, House Transportation Committee chairwoman, serves Issaquah and the 41st Legislative District.
Levy also discussed legislation meant to distribute more state liquor revenue to cities and counties.
“I think you all are a little bit fortunate that you’re not as adversely impacted by what happens with liquor distributions as some of your fellow cities, but it is still a significant issue for you all and several hundred thousand dollars in play,” he told the council.
Levy’s other government clients for the ongoing legislative session include Everett, Fife, Kent, Puyallup, Redmond and Renton, plus the nongovernment Association of Washington Cities, Recreational Boating Association of Washington and the Washington Recreation & Parks Association.
Issaquah is also represented in Olympia through the Association of Washington Cities, a statewide group.
Many lobbyists handle a large portfolio. During the hiring discussion, Issaquah leaders cited Levy’s connections a bonus.