September 12, 2007

Engineers, architects join forces on public policy

  • The Architects and Engineers Legislative Council has been lobbying for the A/E community for more than 30 years.
    Special to the DJC

    ACEC Washington and its members have long been in a unique position to influence public policy, especially in matters of infrastructure.

    In the mid-1970s, two elements came together that provided the structure and focus. The first was a big issue to rally around: the elimination of cronyism and bidding for A/E services. The second was the formation of the Architects and Engineers Legislative Council (AELC).

    AELC had an auspicious beginning as a regular ham-and-eggs breakfast get-together at the Dawg House restaurant involving some of the then most successful engineers and architects in private practice in the Seattle area. They wanted to make Washington one of the first states to require state and local governments to use qualifications-based selection (QBS) criteria for selecting design consultants on public works projects.

    Their goal first brought about the creation of a statewide umbrella organization to lobby on behalf of all professional associations of licensed design professions. It was the first statewide lobbying organization of its kind in the nation. Its mission was ambitious: to bring together the design professions before the legislature to work cooperatively toward “the improvement of business conditions” for architects and engineers and their firms. The history in other states indicated the various professional societies rarely worked together and often bickered in hearings before legislative committees.

    AELC’s efforts were rewarded in 1981 when Washington joined a then small number of states to enact a Little Brooks Act (as the QBS laws are called after former Texas Congressman Jack Brooks, who authored the ground-breaking federal law).

    The mission grows

    Since its first successful legislative undertaking, AELC’s mission to improve business conditions for design firms and their professionals has remained unchanged. Its issue priorities have expanded, however, taking into account the increasingly complicated business of providing design-consulting services.

    Today, AELC is composed of eight statewide trade associations and professional societies of architects, engineers, land surveyors and landscape architects. Its efforts are focused on seven issues: infrastructure funding, government contracting, qualifications-based selection, liability reform, taxes, licensing, and regulatory reform. These priorities are reviewed regularly to make certain AELC stays focused on the issues that matter most to the business conditions facing design professionals and their firms.

    Building on success

    AELC’s beginnings were fortuitous because since its success with the enactment of the QBS law in 1981, AELC has had to work doggedly to defend the language and integrity of the law. It is almost a biennial project to defend the law and to defeat a bill to amend the law to permit a government agency to evaluate price proposals before selection of the most qualified design firm. Because of this, AELC works closely with candidates and new legislators to explain the law and how it serves government agencies as well as the public.

    Some issues AELC has been involved with include:

    • Taxes. In 1987 and 1993, AELC worked with others to defeat proposals by Govs. Booth Gardner and Mike Lowry to impose a sales tax on all services, including professional services. Although AELC was successful in defeating the measures, the Legislature in 1993 increased the state’s business and occupation tax on professional services by 67 percent — from 1.5 percent to 2.5 percent. AELC worked diligently to repeal the increase and in 1996 the Legislature voted to override Gov. Lowry’s veto of a bill that would have repealed one-half of the increase, and in 1997 Gov. Gary Locke signed a bill restoring the B&O tax on professional services to 1.5 percent. ACEC funded and participated in a Hebert Research study of the impacts of the tax increase, which was instrumental in convincing the legislators to vote for the override.

    • Liability reform. AELC has on several occasions in the last two decades worked for liability reform measures in the legislature. In 1985, AELC was a founding member of the state’s Liability Reform Coalition, which worked successfully the following year to bring about a significant change in the law of joint and several liability — making the law fairer because defendants are more often only responsible for their proportionate share of the fault. AELC also successfully defended the integrity and constitutionality of the state’s six-year builder limitation statute of repose from challenges in the courts and legislature. ACEC National provided a Minuteman Fund Grant to help us prevail before the Washington State Supreme Court in the effort to preserve the statute of repose.

    • Infrastructure funding. ACEC Washington has had a high profile in the debate over transportation funding since the early 1990s, when the argument for additional fuel tax increases began in earnest. This was followed by what seemed like an annual major event, such as the Sound Transit votes, Referendums 49 and 51, Initiatives 695 and 912, the Nickel Package and The Transportation Partnership Package. ACEC and its members contributed more than $1.5 million to these campaigns, but just as important, the grassroots citizen lobbyists from the engineering community were key figures in these efforts, especially in passing the Transportation Partnership Act and the successful defense of this new funding with the defeat of I-912.

    • Government contracting out. AELC everyday explains the wisdom of contracting out design work by government agencies and works to keep government agencies from competing with private-sector design firms. In recent years public employee unions have repeatedly attempted to advance legislation that would reduce the government’s ability to contract with private industry. ACEC will continue to advocate that the expertise and innovation of private-sector firms ensures the delivery of quality, on-time services to government clients. Washington taxpayers also benefit from the savings that are realized when federal and state and local governments contract out planning, engineering, design and related professional services.


    ACEC has played a dominant role in AELC since its inception. More than half of the officers who have served AELC have come from ACEC firms, and they have provided the leadership that has kept AELC a vital and productive coalition for these many years. Our leadership recognizes the indispensable role that AELC plays in the welfare of our businesses.

    Cliff Webster of Carney Badley Spellman is AELC’s general counsel and head lobbyist. He serves as the chair of the Washington State Liability Reform Coalition and was recently named one of the five most successful lobbyists in Olympia. Bill Garrity is executive director of ACEC Washington and serves as president of the Washington Construction Industry Council.

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