Thursday, December 22, 2011

ESA Suit Threatens Flood Insurance

As suspected, the National Wildlife Federation has filed suit against FEMA.

Today, NWF moved for a preliminary injunction against the sale of flood insurance in the Puget Sound region pending the outcome of the lawsuit

FEMA may be prevented from issuing FLOOD INSURANCE .  This could have severe impacts on all types of real estate and countless businesses that operate in any floodplain in the Puget Sound region.

Why:  Because the suit against FEMA seeks an injunction to prohibit the sale of flood insurance policies in Washington State .

Immediate action needed:
Support a coalition of real estate organizations, owners, property professionals and businesses who have organized as “Property Owners for Sensible Floodplain Regulation” (POSFR) in an effort to Protect Property Rights in the Floodplain.

On November 30, 2011, Property Owners for Sensible Floodplain Regulation (POSFR) held a meeting at Renton City Hall to discuss pending changes to the floodplain maps and development regulations applicable to floodplains in the Puget Sound region.  During that meeting, it was  highlighted that the National Wildlife Federation had submitted a 60-day Notice of Intent to sue to FEMA in September 2011, asserting that FEMA has not done enough to enforce the very restrictive development standards set forth in the Biological Opinion issued by NOAA-National Marine Fisheries Service to FEMA in September 2008 regarding FEMA’s operation of the National Flood Insurance Program in the Puget Sound region.

On December 8, the National Wildlife Federation filed their lawsuit against FEMA.  They assert that FEMA has violated several sections of the Endangered Species Act by failing to require the 122 Puget Sound jurisdictions participating in the National Flood Insurance Program to enforce the most restrictive provisions of the Biological Opinion.  Those restrictive provisions include, but are not limited to:

§         A 150-250 foot “no adverse affects” buffer around all rivers and streams in the region;
§         A restriction on new impervious surface to no more than 10% of the lot area;
§         A requirement to provide compensatory storage to offset any floodplain fill;

And there is more …..

The impacts to ongoing property operations and future development could be severe.

The National Wildlife Federation has filed a Motion for Preliminary Injunction.  They are asking the federal court to suspend the sale of flood insurance for any new development or substantial redevelopment until FEMA implements the Biological Opinion as the National Wildlife Federation would like.  If the Court issues the injunction – which could occur as soon as February 2012 – it will halt most development and substantial redevelopment in the floodplain areas of our region for several months, if not years.  The NWF was successful in getting an injunction against the sale of flood insurance in Monroe County, Florida – which has been in effect since 2005.

Over the past year, POSFR has attempted to focus property owners and businesses located in and near the floodplain on the substantial risks facing their properties and business operations from the Biological Opinion and corresponding changes to local floodplain development regulations.  POSFR’s efforts have also included a parallel FEMA project, floodplain remapping, that in many cases is resulting in expanded floodplain area encompassing properties never before shown in the floodplain.  With the filing of this lawsuit by the National Wildlife Federation, the risks to real property in the floodplain have become very real.  You may not be able to buy flood insurance when you most need it.  And you may have no voice in the design and imposition of extreme restrictions on development and redevelopment in the floodplains going forward.

Your help is needed.  Your participation and financial support are critical to enable POSFR to continue working to protect the property rights and development potential for properties in the floodplain or at risk of being mapped into the floodplain. 

In the next month, POSFR would like to file an amicus brief to counter the National Wildlife Federation’s Motion for Preliminary Injunction.  Our brief would highlight the vast development regulations that already exist in the region and that protect endangered species, and also the enormous economic harm that would result from a ban on the sale of flood insurance for new development or substantial redevelopment in the region.  You may support its efforts by becoming a member of POSFR (see attached) and also by making a contribution to its litigation efforts.  If POSFR does not participate in this suit, property owners will not have a voice when it is needed most – and they cannot file unless your support it.

You may send the attached Commitment Form (click on image for a larger view) and your contribution made out to GordonDerr to:

Molly Lawrence
GordonDerr, LLP
2025 First Ave., Ste. 500
Seattle, WA 98121

Please note in the “RE” line for any check:  Deposit in trust for POSFR. 

This issue is truly urgent.  POSFR needs to raise funds NOW to ensure a defense against the National Wildlife Federation’s request for a preliminary injunction.  POSFR is the only entity prepared to make some of the key arguments that should stave off the injunction on the sale of flood insurance.  If POSFR does not participate, many of the key arguments simply will not be made.

POSFR is supported by real estate owners, managers, management companies, business owners, trade associations such as BOMA, Washington REALTORS, Master Builders, Association of Washington Business, Etc.

GUEST Blogger: Molly A. Lawrence |  GordonDerr LLP | 2025 First Avenue, Suite 500, Seattle, WA  98121-3140 | | Phone: 206-382-9540 | Fax: 206-626-0675 |

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Tacoma Budget Woes Continue

It's been nearly two months since the City of Tacoma noticed a massive hole in its biennial budget.  In that time, City Council has directed staff to trim about $11M from non-public health & safety departments; passed new taxes, fees & fines totaling $1M; proposed another $11M in cuts to police and fire, pending further financial review; and is considering several million dollars more in additional taxes.  However, these do not total the $31M projected hole. 

While the Council continues to discuss impacts of potential cuts, there is little discussion on how to make the City a more efficient organization - something many businesses have gone through during the current economic crisis.  Instead, the City's drawdown of a $47M reserve fund over three years helped them avoid cuts.  As the Tacoma Weekly noted:

"'Rather than make the early cuts, the city used its reserves and didn't address the underlining losses in revenue.  Using the reserves saved jobs then but compounded the deficit spending that not only led to the current budget gap, but also put the city in tougher financial shape for the years to come,' [Steve Marcotte, former Tacoma Finance Director] said.  What should have happened was that Tacoma should have made small cuts in 2008 and 2009 at levels tied to the dropping tax incomes and revenues rather than continue to operate beyond its means."

Once the City has refined its expenses to refocus on its core mission, there may need to be additional revenue sources - however, this should only come after an honest evaluation of how to make the City more efficient.  As discussed here, the Chamber has encouraged the Council to focus on sources of revenue that do not unfairly target one business or business sector.

The News Tribune recently featured an article in which ordinary citizens were developing ideas on how to save public health and safety jobs.  These ideas ranged from "a thrift store mentality" focused on second hand office furniture and supplies to a $25 per person tax to avoid all cuts to the Tacoma Police Department.  These across the board changes are welcomed to distribute the impacts throughout the community while helping the City become leaner.

As the Council moves towards a balanced budget, we encourage Chamber members to let their elected representatives know what services are important to them.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Alaska-Tacoma Trade on TV

Harry McDonald, CEO of Anchorage-based Carlile Transportation Systems and Gary Brackett, Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber's Business & Trade Manager are featured in a South Sound Business Report TV segment entitled "Alaska and the South Sound."

Brackett shares the deep extent of commerce connection between Puget Sound ports and the economy of Alaska, which must import most of its supplies and equipment needs.

McDonald talks about the family- and employee-owned logistics company with terminals in Houston, Minnesota, Alberta and its largest outside of Alaska at Port of Tacoma. He also has observations on the economy in the 49th state, which may soon be seeing a rebirth of energy-providing growth.

The program will also air on Tuesday, Dec. 27 at 6:30 p.m. on KBTC PBS-Tacoma after the station's December pledge campaign preemptions end.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Budget Becomes Road Kill

The last special session of the Washington Legislature has made a short-term fix to the state budget and kicked the can down the road to the regular legislative session next year/month.

The battle over the state's budget - over getting the budget into balance - promises to be THE ISSUE OF THE SESSION.

One promising argument in the budget debate comes from the "Road Kill" Democrats.  (The "Road Kill" caucus is so called because they are middle-of-the-roaders who get run over by the left and the right.)

To see how this debate is formed, check out this video by Pierce County's Sen. Jim Kastama.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Military Spouses Get Licensing Approval

The State Legislature did a great favor for the active-duty families in our state with the passage of SB5969, the military-spouse licensing bill.

Under terms of the bill, the state will allow military spouses a temporary professional license here, honoring the license originally issued in another state.  The temporary license will allow sufficient time for the spouse to complete any unique requirements necessary in Washington State.

Our Chamber testified in both the state Senate and House, both of which had significant bill sponsors.  Our thanks to Sen. Derek Kilmer and Representative Tami Green (companion HB2167) and all the co-sponsors in both houses. 

The Chamber had approved this goal for its 2012 Legislative Agenda, but this prompt action by our legislature gives us our first success early.  The Chamber’s membership had supported (83.7%) this goal in a survey completed last month.

The bill is now forwarded to Governor Chris Gregoire for signing. 

Our thanks also go to Mark San Souci, Regional Liaison Northwest, Defense State Liaison Office and the Chamber's State Lobbyist Michael Transue. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Chamber Adopts 2012 Leg Agenda

The Chamber’s Board of Directors has adopted its goals for the upcoming regular legislative session.  There are specific goals related to the success of local business and the development of our community.  Plus, the Chamber will work with other chambers of commerce on state-wide issues.

To successfully accomplish this agenda, the Chamber will depend on the assistance of its volunteers and the support of our local business with the Chamber's professional staff.

Click on the image below for a larger view.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Chamber Supports Ex-Im Funding

The Chamber has joined a coalition of business and economic development advocates in urging Congress to continuing funding the Ex-Im Bank.  The Ex-Im Bank is vitally important to international trade for the nation.  Businesses and jobs in Washington State - as exemplified by our trade achievements - are primary beneficiaries of the Ex-Im Bank.

Click the image for a larger view. 

Monday, December 5, 2011

Tacoma City Manager Finalists Attending Public Officials Reception

By now you've heard that the Chamber's Annual Public Officials Holiday Reception already has over 40 public officials attending.  But did you know that this is the first opportunity to meet the finalists in Tacoma's City Manager Search?

We've confirmed that Rey Arellano, Tacoma's Interim City Manager; T.C. Broadnax, Assistant City Manager of San Antonio, TX; and Andrew Neiditz, City Manager of Lakewood, will all be attending the Holiday Reception.  (Finalist Frederick Russell has withdrawn.  Finalist Craig Malin's travel itinerary has not been finalized.)

If you are interested in meeting the finalists before they move onto interviews on Thursday, December 8th, please RSVP for the Holiday Reception online here or by calling Janice Hutchins at 253.627.2175.  For more on the candidates, please visit the News Tribune's introduction of the finalists here.

Please note that Tom Pierson, Chamber President & CEO, will be participating in candidate interviews with other business leaders on Thursday.  If you have thoughts on any of the candidates, we encourage you to share them with Tom.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Taxing Public Health Services

As previously discussed, the City of Tacoma is facing a significant budget gap.  While the size of the hole is projected at $31M, the City Council had decided that it would focus on repairing $23M of that now - provided that no new revenue options were on the table.  However, the Council is now seriously considering additional sources of revenue. 

The City Council's Government, Performance & Finance Committee put forward a series of tax proposals, including one that targeted five specific businesses in Tacoma within the non-profit health care sector.  With the support of business partners Multicare, Franciscan, Community Health Care, and SeaMar; the Chamber contacted the City about the potential impacts to the community and these businesses.

In the City's rush to find revenues, it significantly misunderstood the hardship that adding a B&O tax to non-profit health services would cause.  In an effort to maintain care levels, Multicare alone just eliminated over 500 positions - far more than the City is contemplating in even the most dire scenarios.  With an increase in their taxes, it would undoubtably equate to even more jobs at a time when more and more people are depending on the charity care provided by these non-profit providers.

Thankfully, at the City Council's study session on November 22nd, Councilmember Jake Fey proposed taking this tax increase off the table due to its inequitable nature of targeting specific businesses and targeting the needy.  While the majority of the Council appeared to support this position, Councilmember Ryan Mello made a last minute effort to retain the option by sending it back to committee for further review.

That means that this effort is not done.  On December 7th, they will again take up this targeted tax increase in committee.  With its partners, the Chamber will continue to advocate for an equitable distribution of any new taxes that the City imposes.  As our partners, we hope you will join us in voicing your concerns to the City Council.