The following editorial is from the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin.
The state’s 39 county governments – regardless of whether controlled by Democrats or Republicans – are frustrated (even outraged) with the state Legislature’s continued demands for counties to provide services and programs without providing funds to pay for them.
Yet, given (that) state government is adding billions of dollars for education as mandated by a state Supreme Court ruling, it’s highly unlikely counties will find much relief from the Legislature’s unfunded mandates in the near future without public support.
Local taxpayers should appreciate the unified approach undertaken by county officials to get lawmakers and the governor to provide financial help.
The Everett Herald reported last week that the Washington State Association of Counties is amassing $400,000 to use next year in its effort to get the attention of lawmakers. The money comes from an assessment paid by each county.
About $100,000 will be used to lobby lawmakers when the Legislature goes into session in January.
If that doesn’t work, the remaining cash might be used to hire an attorney and undertake legal action, the Herald reported.
“It is a last resort. We want to make our case very well known first,” said Josh Weiss, legislative director and general counsel for the County Association.
The counties would be wise to reconsider suing. Taking legal action would be a public relations blunder for the counties as county and state taxpayers, who are the exact same people, would be footing the bill.
Beyond that, the Legislature holds the cards – it has more cash on hand to wage a protracted legal battle and since it writes the laws it could take action to circumvent any decision that didn’t go its way.
This does not mean the counties’ concerns aren’t valid. To the contrary, the way the Legislature has heaped more responsibilities on local governments – counties as well as cities – year after year so the state can cut costs seems wrong.
At a November legislative hearing on this topic, the Herald reported, Lewis County officials provided the state House Local Government Committee with 19 pages of state-prescribed mandates of which the majority are paid for with local rather than state dollars.
In that same hearing, Kitsap County officials said it picks up 82 percent of the cost of the mandates – or about $6.5 million in the current budget year.
All counties – and cities – are feeling the financial pinch. But there are few options for the counties (or cities) to raise more revenue to cover the costs.
Do they cut local services to fund the state mandates?
Thus, county officials across the state have reached the point they want financial relief from the Legislature. Let’s hope lobbying efforts work as a lawsuit is going to be expensive for all taxpayers.
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