Looking back after Sine Die
Now that the session is over, it seems apropos to look back. For those like myself whose work revolves around the legislature, it feels like the end of the year. So almost like it was December 31, it is good to take a moment to reflect on what was the 2021 legislative session.
As WACD approached the legislative session last fall and winter, all appearances foretold a rough budget cycle. The Governor had ordered staff furloughs, mandatory agency reductions, and the state coffers were several billion dollars below pre-COVID estimates. Circumstances are very different now with the final budget. We can celebrate with two operating budget wins – $2 million in ongoing technical assistance funding for districts as well as $3 million to assist in landowner recovery from last year’s wildfires. Though the capital budget was not what we hoped it could be, state funding for district projects remained relatively continuous with a few small ups paired with a few small downs and you all are able to continue the good work.
Transitioning to Virtual
As with the state legislature, WACD and member districts had to transition to virtual interactions with legislators. Some took to it well, increased their communications, and were even able to take part in regular round-tables with their legislators. For other districts it never quite took hold. If nothing else, we all were forced to examine how we interacted with decision-makers. No longer were in-person project tours an option, and all the “one-pagers” became email attachments.
I know some of you will be very happy to return to Olympia in 2022 for Legislative Days and taking your local elected officials out to the fields, while I suspect others will want to continue many of the practices that arose during our work-from-home phase. At least part of the new procedures are here to stay: legislative leaders have committed themselves to continue the remote access option for those who wish to testify in front of committees. (That noise you just heard was a sigh of relief from everyone not within an easy drive of the state capital.) I suspect these virtual interactions will add another option to communicate and lobby legislators on the importance of district operations.
Looking forward, there is one area I suspect WACD will seek to improve how we approach future legislative sessions. Beyond the dedicated funding through the Conservation Commission, many conservation districts are awarded state dollars through other agency grants and capital project programs. How and where WACD provides support for individual district requests is done on an ad-hoc basis, and based primarily on if WACD is aware of these district-specific projects. These requests represent large opportunities for districts to move the dial, but it seems like they are almost an afterthought at times when it comes to discussing association-wide priorities.
I would be remiss if I did not end any review of the session without thanking the district supervisors and staff that advocated for their CD over the past year. The best outreach comes outside of the legislative session, when you all are able to put legislators in front of a success story and let the project do the talking. Most of what makes WACD successful is we can take legislators the final mile, building on your relationships and pointing them in the right direction how to continue and expand the model of voluntary conservation stewardship. Sometimes our lobbying is unsuccessful in the long run. Yet every time you are able to connect with your local, state, or federal elected officials, you are able to convince them a little bit more of how important the mission is that we all believe in. Thank you.