Mayor delivers message to state legislature

Clean ups, transportation, housing and rail safety on community agenda

Mar 02, 2015 - by Mayor Kelli Linville

A ​key part of the effectiveness of city
government is working with our partners, and one of our most important
partners is our state legislature. During the legislative session, I
regularly communicate with our representatives in Olympia, and in February I
visited our legislators to discuss how the state can help us achieve our
local goals.

We are in the fortunate — and unusual — position of having a strong local
voice on issues because the City of Bellingham, Whatcom County, and the Port
of Bellingham work cooperatively on a common agenda to deliver to the state
legislature. This is especially important because Bellingham is divided into
two legislative districts, the 40th and the 42nd, which means we have six
legislators representing us in Olympia. It's important to our community that
we have a strong voice with clear goals.

Here are five important topics on our joint regional agenda.

  • Environmental clean ups: Cleaning up
    contamination is one of our prime responsibilities, and environmental
    clean-up money needs to be protected. Model Toxics Control Act (MTCA)
    funds are essential to help our community address contamination on
    several sites along our waterfront, including the former Georgia-Pacific
    site, Whatcom Waterway, and the Cornwall Avenue landfill. Our overall
    goals for waterfront redevelopment include clean up, access and economic
    development, and it all starts with clean ups. Nothing can happen until
    contamination is addressed. We're encouraged by the state's existing
    commitment to clean up these sites, and every indication is that clean
    up funds are being protected. These dollars are critical to Bellingham,
    and our legislators have told us that they will do their best to protect
    them.
  • Transportation: Our community takes a
    cooperative, multimodal approach to transportation, and we worked with
    our partners at the Whatcom Council of Governments to create a list of
    regional priorities. We have submitted this list of priority projects to
    leadership in Olympia, and we're happy that two of the WCOG's projects
    have initially been included in the proposed Senate transportation bill:
    the Bakerview Northbound onramp project and Orchard Street multimodal
    improvements. While we are pleased to have these two projects currently
    in the proposed transportation package, we are also advocating for the
    other top WCOG priorities, Slater Road intersection improvements, the
    VACIS train intersection project in Blaine, and county connector transit
    service. Whatcom County is one of the biggest tax donors to the state
    transportation system every year, and these important transportation
    projects need state support. I am thankful to our legislators for
    putting two projects in the budget, and we continue to advocate for full
    funding of all regional priorities.
  • Housing and mental health: Our city is
    impacted by the lack of mental health and substance abuse treatment and
    affordable housing. I have been an advocate for increased mental health
    bed funding. A Supreme Court decision last year supported the need for
    increased mental health dollars. Washington ranks close to last in the
    nation for psychiatric beds, and legislators are now forced to address
    the fact that the state has a dire shortage of mental-health treatment
    beds created by a series of budget cuts. I have also spoken with our
    legislators about supporting the Housing Trust Fund (HTF). The HTF makes
    funds available for affordable housing projects through a competitive
    application process, and often these are necessary matching funds for
    local projects. In addition to our local housing levy, we have a list of
    projects in Bellingham that are dependent on funding from the state HTF
    — about $10 million in state dollars leverages almost $55 million in
    affordable housing for seniors, veterans, young adults, homeowners and
    low-income households.
  • Revenue sharing for alcohol and marijuana:
    The burden of implementing new liquor laws and legalization of marijuana
    falls on the local governments. In the past, there has been revenue
    sharing generated from liquor sales, and we are advocating to restore
    the revenue sharing partnership between the state and cities. We are
    also asking that the tax revenue from legalization of marijuana to be
    shared the same way — because as a local government, we have to enforce
    the laws and educate the public, and that costs money. We are encouraged
    that the legislature understands we are their partner and they need to
    review how that money is distributed.
  • Rail safety: I am a member of the Association
    of Washington Cities' rail safety committee, and we are asking for a
    stronger local voice for decision making on rail issues. The main issues
    we can impact are resources for local first responders and a greater
    input in policies that are developed around at-grade crossings, safety,
    adequate notification of rail-car content, and appropriate emergency
    response.

Our community shares a clear and compelling mission toward restoring and
preserving our environmental assets, meeting our regional transportation
priorities, providing for our community's mental health and housing needs,
getting our fair return of revenue from state taxes, and providing for rail
safety. Through cooperative efforts between our local and state partners, I
believe we can accomplish our goals together.

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