Partnership gives leaders a look at the big picture

At a time when noncooperation among elected officials seems de rigueur, the Thurston County Shared Legislative Partnership stands out in Washington state as a shining example of collaboration for the common good.

Cities, counties, ports and various other entities in all regions of the state have plenty of natural disagreements, and Thurston County makes no exception.

But representatives of the South Sound’s major players have found that working together on common interests has a greater impact on state and federal lawmakers. It’s an excellent strategy.

For the last decade, the Thurston County Chamber of Commerce has brought together the cities of Olympia, Lacey and Tumwater, Thurston County, the Port of Olympia, LOTT Clean Water Alliance, the Thurston Regional Planning Council and the Thurston Economic Development Council to speak with one unified voice.

This rare cooperative approach among jurisdictions has produced mutually beneficial results. In 2011, the partnership worked with Sen. Karen Fraser to secure $250,000 in transportation funding that led to North-South gate openings at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, ramp metering and other changes that improved traffic flow along the I-5 corridor.

If each jurisdiction presses its individual issues, it puts lawmakers in the uncomfortable position of having to choose among local projects. And, at least lately, there’s never enough money to go around.

When jurisdictions work together from a list that benefits the entire region, it benefits the lawmakers and the public.

The Thurston Shared Legislative Partnership is focusing on four key state issues this year:

 • A Puget Sound initiative focusing on the cleanup of Budd Inlet and the prevention of future pollution from aging septic systems in now high-density neighborhoods. The port is undertaking an expensive cleanup of legacy industrial contamination it did not cause, without the guarantee that funds will remain in the Model Toxics Control Act (MTCA).

The Legislature has raided about $250 million from this fund – as it has done to the Public Works Trust Fund. The Partnership simply wants lawmakers keep the MTCA fund solvent and sufficient.

 • Pressing the state Department of Transportation to make it a top priority to create a long-term strategic plan for the I-5 corridor between Lakewood and Tumwater.

 • Preserving critical economic development tools, such as the Public Works Trust Fund, that help local governments create and maintain living wage jobs and trigger community revitalization.

 • Fixing flaws in the Transportation Benefit District (TBD) statute so that two or more smaller cities or towns in a county could form a TBD.

David Schaffert, president and chief executive officer of the Thurston County Chamber, says the partnership is not asking for any new money this year because it understands the Legislature’s difficulty in crafting a 2013-2015 biennium budget.

But they have found other ways of keeping state lawmakers focused on jobs, transportation and the environment.

It’s good for everyone when elected officials and others in key decision-making roles take the time to step back and consider the bigger picture. How do we want Thurston County to develop? What’s needed to get us there?

And it’s even better when they use that vision for a comprehensive approach to legislative action. If only state and federal lawmakers could work together so well.