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Five of us, all Seattle City Councilmembers, in the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, journeyed to Olympia on Monday, MLK Day, to make good on a resolve to partner with other cities and with state legislators. The Seattle five were wearing newly minted green and white buttons that read: “Seattle for Washington.”
The campaign to build relationships with other cities and jurisdictions isn’t just lip service – it’s something that’s been ongoing throughout the year and has taken councilmembers to districts across the state – from Aberdeen to Spokane and from Canadian border to the mouth of the Columbia.
But where it all comes together is in Olympia, where our elected representatives are struggling with eroding resources to provide the services that citizens depend upon. The situation is dire. There are many needs, many concerned citizens and little hope that the state can do more than make provision for the most basic and essential services.
One legislator shook her head in frustration and said, “We can’t save everything. We have to know what you can’t live without.” Another legislator told us, “The question we sometimes ask: If we wipe out a program, will someone die?”
The Seattle five were lobbying for three urgent imperatives: saving Disability Lifeline, Community Health Centers and children’s health care. These three are the state’s basic safety net programs. And, while councilmembers naturally have other programs that desperately need state help, those three seemed the most critical.
Without state assistance in providing these three basics, hospital emergency rooms would be overflowing. We’d all be paying in one way or another to provide the bare essentials and – yes, let’s be honest – people would be at risk of dying.
This then was the basic message we were delivering to our legislators, telling them what matters the most in these perilous times.
We were able, thanks to good staff work by the city’s intergovernmental staff, to schedule 23 meetings for Monday – most of them with our Seattle delegation. But, because we’re “Seattle for Washington,” we saw Republicans and Democrats from other parts of the state; we saw important state officials like new Department of Revenue director Suzan DelBene and even had time with House Speaker Frank Chopp.
One of our mutual concerns, of course, is for transit. We’re hoping that legislators will respond to the need for new funding sources for Metro which has been badly impacted by the economic situation and will be even more deeply affected in the future. Presently it is on track for a 16 percent reduction in service, much of which (60 percent approximately) will be felt by riders in Seattle.
The MLK Day visit to Olympia was a good one for getting to learn one another’s challenges. But it won’t be the last time Seattle councilmembers will be traveling to Olympia to continue our conversations with legislators and to continue to be “Seattle for Washington.”