Cities and counties asking for more time to complete costly land-use and shoreline plans cleared their first big hurdle in the state House late last week.
Their “fiscal relief” bill now moves to the Senate. Major changes could doom the bill and the tens of millions of dollars in cost reductions it would provide local governments.
Meanwhile, environmentalists are fighting elements of the bill that delay deadlines for meeting stricter environmental rules that curb urban sprawl, polluted waterways and dirty air.
“These are incredibly expensive regulations to be handled,” Democratic Rep. Larry Springer of Kirkland said last week as he marshaled his compromise bill to passage on a 86-11 vote. “Cities and counties are not arguing whether they should. They are asking for a little more time” to meet higher standards.
Springer’s House Bill 1478 would delay deadlines for things such as shoreline planning, new stormwater-discharge standards and conversions of vehicle fleets to alternative fuels.
“We appreciate the fact the Legislature seems to be recognizing that in the difficult times they are in we also are in difficult times,” said Dave Williams, lobbyist for the Association of Washington Cities. “There is nothing here that undoes any environmental protection.”
Local governments are seeking flexibility in how they spend taxes they already collect, and a major bill addressing that – House Bill 1953 – has passed the House and awaits Senate action. It would let governments spend their real estate excise tax collections for maintaining parks, jails and other infrastructure previously paid for by real estate taxes – rather than spend it strictly on new facilities, according to Merriman. He said the five-year relief bill is an agreement between cities and the real estate industry.
Environmental advocates are leery of the fiscal-relief bill.
“We did manage to change some things in the House version that we think all parties are comfortable with” on stormwater, said Bruce Wishart, policy director for People for Puget Sound. “But we still have concerns about another section of the bill that would delay updates in the Growth Management Act and the Shorelines Management Act from the current seven-year cycle to a 10-year cycle. It’s a bad idea.”
In the Democrat-controlled Senate, Republican Sen. Dan Swecker of Rochester and Democratic Sen. Kevin Ranker of San Juan had agreed to exclude stormwater entirely from their fiscal-relief bill, Senate Bill 5360. The measure, sponsored by Swecker, died at Monday’s cutoff.
Swecker and Ranker also agreed to a longer, 10-year renewal cycle for land-use and shoreline plans, although Ranker was uncomfortable about going 10 years between plan updates.
Swecker likes the House compromise and hopes to avoid amendments in the Senate that gum up the legislation or risk killing it.
“The problem is, everybody wants to mess with it. Everybody who talks to me wants one more little change in it,” he said.
For instance, Swecker and Springer heard from fire districts left out of the House bill, which would let cities and counties wait three extra years, until 2018, before converting their vehicles to alternative fuels.
Mark Brown, lobbyist for cities including Lacey and Vancouver, has said that converting fleets by 2015 could cost Lacey several million dollars and Vancouver about $28 million at a time the latter city laid off 100 workers and closed a fire station.
Another change in play is from Democratic Sen. Jim Hargrove of Hoquiam, who wants to speed the Department of Ecology’s approval of shoreline plans that local jurisdictions write, according to Merriman. He said the counties want quicker action, too.
Springer said he is open to one idea from environmental advocacy group Futurewise. He said it would allow 10-year plan renewals for land-use plans, but cities and counties experiencing growth would be required to do some kind of regulatory “check-in” every five years. That way, plans could be revised based on real growth or new endangered-species listings, but counties say the concept needs a lot of work.
Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688 firstname.lastname@example.org www.theolympian.com/politicsblog