Advocacy: WSAC Supports Counties

WSAC serves as a forum to build a statewide county legislative agenda. The fact that WSAC represents all 39 counties is key to building the coalitions needed to pass helpful legislation and likewise prevent harmful legislation. WSAC utilizes various tools to keep members up-to-date on legislative activities throughout the year.

View the WSAC Legislative Bill Tracker:

2023-24 Legislative Priorities

In Washington, state government’s strength and the strength of the state’s 39 counties are interdependent and mutually reinforcing. State government’s success requires thriving, flexible, front-line implementation partners in counties. Counties’ success requires an active, resourceful, supportive partner in state government. Below, you’ll find how Washington’s 39 counties and Legislature can work together to make urgent progress on shared priorities in the 2023-24 Legislative Session.

2024 Legislative Actions Counties Support

Modernizing Justice to Support and Promote Recovery

What is driving the need to change how our justice system operates?

The Legislature should commission the Washington State Institute for Public Policy (WSIPP) to conduct a study of the county jail system. Counties face many obstacles in successfully operating, maintaining, and providing services, like physical and behavioral health (BH), in their jails. Furthermore, recommendations from the Jail Standards Task Force and sentencing modifications from groups like the Criminal Sentencing Task Force will undoubtedly impose new obligations and requirements upon counties that will result in an increased county fiscal impact. Gathering all jail system-related data, impacts, and costs, analyzing them, and publishing a list of recommendations therefrom will establish a baseline from which all levels of government can work to take steps toward improving the current system.

Learn More: View the One-Pager

Federal Transportation Fund Exchange

Why are we asking for a federal transportation fund exchange program?

Federal funding is vital to the success of county transportation programs. The Surface Transportation Block Grant (STBG) program funds critical preservation and maintenance activities counties desperately need. However, federal funds often come with added requirements, resulting in heftier price tags and longer timelines for local projects. As in some other states, WSAC proposes allowing counties to swap our sub-allocation of federal STBG funds for state transportation revenue. This would save local jurisdictions time and resources on project delivery, allowing for the more efficient use of scarce transportation dollars.

Learn More: View the One-Pager

Support the Critical Facilities Rural Counties Need

Extend the Sales & Use Tax for Public Facilities

What is the Sales & Use Tax for Public Facilities in Rural Counties?

Since 1998, the Legislature has authorized rural counties to impose and collect a sales and use tax as a credit against the state’s share of tax, to be used for economic development facilities and affordable workforce housing. The rate is currently set at up to .09% and is good for up to 25 years from when it was first imposed. It generates about $48 million per year for local projects. The relevant state law is RCW 82.14.370. (see the summary table on the back page for more details).

Learn More: View the One-Pager

Behavioral Health System Improvements – Apple Health Reprocurement & Network Adequacy

What is behavioral health network adequacy?

“Network Adequacy” refers to a federal requirement on Medicaid Managed Care Organizations (MCOs) that is intended to ensure an MCO has a network of providers that is sufficient in numbers and types, to ensure that ALL services are accessible to Medicaid clients without unreasonable delay. Each state is allowed to set its own “network adequacy” standards in Medicaid if they are not less stringent than current federal requirements and are formally approved by the Federal government. Standards must be data-driven and use quantitative information to assess how many providers should be available to meet the need. Meeting network adequacy is a key requirement for any new health insurance carrier to enter the Medicaid market, and the most rigorous review and test of meeting this standard happens during a procurement process.

Learn More: View the One-Pager

Responding to the COVID Crisis

Disease Response

Throughout the pandemic, state government’s top priority has been managing an ongoing, effective, and appropriately resourced program of case investigation, vaccination, and robust public outreach and education. Counties stand at the front line of each of these activities, all of which require adequate funding from the Legislature to be effective.

Disease Containment

Coordination of care for people isolated in quarantine who need support beyond testing is critical to COVID suppression. This is another front-line activity conducted by counties, the effectiveness of which is also determined by legislative funding levels.

Behavioral Health

The need for essential county services, such as mental health and substance use disorder programs, has significantly increased during the pandemic. And county jails, despite being neither designed nor staffed to do so, are dealing with individuals who have significant mental health and substance use disorder challenges. Counties simply cannot provide for this growing, unmet human need without additional state funding for the behavioral health system, including jails.

Affordable Housing

Washington communities have faced a massive affordable housing shortage and a growing number of individuals entering homelessness even before the pandemic. Increasing unemployment, growing numbers of people facing eviction or foreclosure, and a dwindling supply of affordable housing make it imperative that the Legislature invests in stabilizing housing situations for tenants and homeowners.

Government Operations During the Pandemic

Local governments across the state have adapted to the pandemic by conducting public meetings virtually. Yet, many necessary adjustments simply could not have been contemplated by Washington’s existing Open Public Meeting Act and Public Records Act. Modifying these statutes to reflect the demands of the current pandemic environment will help preserve their spirit while ensuring compliance.

Local Budget Impacts

As Washington’s counties and Legislature together await federal action to address the havoc the pandemic has wreaked on state and local revenues, the Legislature can help counties through this crisis by removing restrictions and allowing flexibility to spend certain funds while refraining from adding new unfunded mandates.

Combatting Climate Change and Protecting our Environment

Climate Change

With their unique ability to tailor solutions to local circumstances for maximum effectiveness, counties may play an instrumental role in meeting the state’s goals for reducing climate change impacts. If the legislature delegates new responsibilities to counties for addressing climate change, flexibility to meet mandates according to local conditions and adequate, sustainable funding are necessary.

Salmon Habitat

Counties can also help the state meet both the spirit and the letter of the court-order requiring a fix to all fish-blocking culverts by 2030. With appropriate funding from the Legislature, counties can begin repairing or replacing thousands of fish-blocking culverts in our stream systems to ensure the state is in full compliance with the court order.

Forest Health

Wildfires pose a threat to every county and to air quality throughout Washington – and are becoming more frequent across the state. Counties join a broad array of community stakeholders working with lawmakers on identifying new resources for improving forest health, enhancing fire resiliency for communities in all high fire hazard areas, responding and containing wildland fires, immediately rehabilitating affected areas to prevent catastrophic flooding, and increasing collaboration with counties on prescribed burns.

Waste Management

Counties support a uniform standard for recycling available to all residents with consistency to minimize confusion and improve recycling markets. With state support for county solid waste management declining by over 62 percent since 2013, counties urge the Legislature to restore funding to local programs to meet this essential need.

Growth Management

Greater flexibility in planning and a reliable, sustainable state funding source for current responsibilities will provide counties with the ongoing ability to satisfy state legal requirements to manage growth and protect sensitive environments effectively. Any new or expanded requirements must be flexible to allow consideration of local conditions and must also include adequate, sustainable funding.

Water Quality and Water Supply

State government has prioritized effective and efficient water management to support economic, agricultural, recreational, and environmental interests, and public health. Counties assist the state by protecting water quality and supply through comprehensive land use planning and development permitting. New legislation to improve water quality or support and enhance water supplies for various uses that place new responsibilities on counties requires dedicated state funding.

Ending Racial Disparities and Social Inequities

Health Disparities

Local public health works to reduce health disparities created when specific populations have worse health outcomes or are more susceptible to illness and injury due to systemic and institutional barriers. Stable and adaptive funding is critical for public health departments to increase capacity, modernize, and manage new threats – such as infectious diseases and emergencies – as well as longstanding health impacts from chronic illness and harmful environmental exposure.

Public Defense

Access to a defense attorney is a fundamental constitutional right, the responsibility for which the Legislature passed down to counties. Improving equal access to justice is a critical component in tackling inequality, which must be adequately funded. Currently, the Legislature funds less than 4 percent of trial court public defense costs, with counties footing the remaining and ever-increasing $160 million bill. With dwindling and unequal resources, counties’ unfunded mandate to support access to justice places at risk the other non-constitutional but equally critical human services.

Medicaid Benefits While Incarcerated

Medicaid benefits are suspended for incarcerated individuals even if they have not yet been found guilty. However, Federal law allows states to seek a waiver to allow individuals, pre-adjudication, to maintain their Medicaid benefits while incarcerated until judgment has been entered. Counties urge the state to seek a Medicaid waiver to provide better care and coordination for incarcerated people.

Making Long-term Investments, Securing Long-term Solvency

Road Maintenance

Counties own over half of the roads that Washingtonians rely on to get to school, work, and move products to market. Yet counties receive $500 million less per biennium to maintain these roads than in previous decades. This constrains counties’ ability to meet our state transportation system’s needs and risks the health and safety of our communities and the environment. Making progress on the state’s transportation priorities around safety and mobility requires urgent, reliable, sustainable funding for county transportation budgets.

Capital Investments

Investments in county infrastructure like sewer, water, landfills, and buildings keep communities safe and functional, yet have remained underfunded for decades. And when every dollar invested generates $1.50 in economic output, investments in county infrastructure also spur economic growth. Counties look forward to working with the Legislature on a robust capital project list that includes essential infrastructure managed by counties.

Fiscal Solvency

Counties are tasked with funding essential state services at the local level yet face three primary challenges with the revenue sources available to fund these services: lack of revenue diversity, flexibility in using revenue, and revenue streams that do not keep pace with expanding population and inflation. Where counties are structurally unable to meet current and future service demands, the Legislature can help by giving counties the authority to control their cost drivers and providing revenue sources that keep pace with costs.

Legislative Steering Committee (LSC)

The Legislative Steering Committee (LSC) is composed of one member from each of WSAC’s member counties as well as each of the four County Executives. The LSC has two co-chairs that are appointed biennially by the WSAC President. Co-chairs may not also serve as members of the WSAC Executive Committee.  LSC members have frequent interaction, particularly during the state’s legislative session with legislators, agency staff, and representatives of other organizations.  In addition to setting the policy direction for the association through the Legislative Agenda, LSC members are expected to attend regular meetings during legislative session and to communicate with legislators regarding WSAC’s legislative priorities.

Download WSAC Policy Statement

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