Candidates must address city, county fiscal issues

The OlympianMay 11, 2014 

Unlike the national political scene where candidates signal their intention to run for public office many months, even years, in advance, most people considering a run for state or county offices don’t announce until the filing deadline.

There are eight Thurston County offices, nine state legislative positions, eight judicial seats, two public utility district chairs and the 10th Congressional District up for grabs this year, but only incumbent U.S. Rep. Denny Heck has drawn an announced opponent.

That will change Monday as candidate filing week gets underway. The deadline for officially seeking any of these 28 elected positions in Thurston County is Friday.

We hope every race is contested. The debate over issues and ideologies that occurs during spirited political campaigns both educates and informs voters.

And an educated and informed electorate is critical to a functioning democracy.

The Olympian editorial board sat down with local government representatives this week to learn more about the state and federal issues that cause the greatest concern.

The response was crystal clear: inter-jurisdictional collaboration and fiscal sustainability.

More and more, the financial burden of funding services and programs important to individual citizens has shifted to cities and counties, which have limited ability to raise revenue even to keep pace with inflationary costs. In 2007, the state Legislature reinstated the 1 percent levy limit for taxing districts previously approved by Initiative 747.

Federal sequestration and the competition with state K-12 education funding have added to the financial squeeze. And it’s been compounded by the Great Recession and legislators at both the federal and state levels who oppose tax increases or the elimination of obsolete tax loopholes.

Voters should question candidates for state and federal office about how they propose to break this logjam that squeezes city and county efforts to provide adequate law enforcement, public health services and quality of life enhancements important to their constituencies.

For example, this week the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services listed four subspecies of the Mazama pocket gopher as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, putting cash-strapped Thurston County between a rock and a hard place.

The USFWS provides no funding for the county to create and implement a Habitat Conservation Plan or the costs of diverting county workforce resources toward evaluating and classifying property under the listing. Thurston County will shoulder the entire financial burden.

Likewise, the state has shifted costs to cities. The Legislature has swept millions of dollars from the Public Works Trust Fund that cities use to finance roads, sewers and other infrastructure projects.

How bad is it? The state has even shifted some of the cost of sending local police trainees to the Basic Law Enforcement Academy, a service that has been paid since the 1980s out of a surcharge on traffic tickets.

Voters should question candidates if the state will share with cities and counties a portion of its revenues from taxes on liquor and projected new recreational cannabis sales.

The trickle-down effects of state and federal spending cuts and objections to tax increases are beginning to compound at the city and county level. Voters need to understand the consequences of pitting K-12 education against all other services.

There are other important issues for candidates to address this year, but they are overshadowed by how we’ll pay for them.

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