Inside Opinion

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Tag: Legislature

July
8th

Levy swap is critical to state K-12 funding

This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.

On public school funding, lawmakers are right and their critics are wrong. The 2013 Legislature made a big step toward ample funding of public education by earmarking an addition $1 billion for the K-12 system.

Compliance with the Washington Supreme Court’s McCleary decision will require more, of course, but all the money was never going to materialize overnight.

One remarkable thing has been going unremarked.

The Legislature and supreme court are co-equal branches of government. Lawmakers conceivably could have brushed off McCleary the way Andrew Jackson once brushed off an 1832 ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court: Enforce your own damn decision.

Lawmakers instead worked in good faith to satisfy the Washington Constitution’s mandate that the state “make ample provision for the education all children rising within its borders.”

But Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn makes a fair point when he says the Legislature picked the “low-hanging fruit” to come up with that $1 billion.

The easiest fruit to grab was $354 million from the state’s public works account, which provides local governments with cheap loans for local water, sewer and street projects.

That’s one-time money. The Legislature must come up with something better for future bienniums.

One obvious place to go is the levy swap. The basic theory:

• Many districts are currently being forced to come up with 20 percent or more of their budgets from property tax levies that pass or fail depending on the mood of the taxpayers.

• The McCleary decision says all basic education money should come from the state – from a reliable source. Levies don’t count as reliable. (Raids on the public works account aren’t reliable, either.)

• Under the swap, the state would increase the property taxes it collects for schools, and districts would be required to decrease their levies accordingly.

• The switch would be roughly revenue-neutral. Taxpayers as a whole would pay no more, though there’d be some shift from the wealthiest districts (largely in King County) to poor ones.

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June
29th

A surprisingly good budget from a divided Legislature

This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.

The 2013 Legislature can’t be judged a success because it failed to approve the major highway improvements needed to keep Washington’s economy growing.

That said, lawmakers deserve praise for pulling together a surprisingly good operating budget last week in the face of deadline pressure.

For months, the Legislature was locked in the kind of partisan gridlock that has all but paralyzed the budget-writing process in Congress.

The Democrats who run the state House of Representatives were pushing to preserve the social safety net by ending a collection of tax breaks and

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June
27th

State commerce in the grip of the GOP

This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.

The job’s not done yet, lawmakers. Now it’s highway time.

It’s great that the Legislature’s Republicans and Democrats finally settled on a state operating budget that reportedly directs an additional $1 billion to schools. We’re looking forward to seeing the details, where the devil often resides.

But the passage of an operating budget was always a foregone conclusion, despite the months of bickering over its specific provisions. The Washington Constitution requires the Legislature to approve one.

A genuine accomplishment of this Legislature – that includes you, Republican senators – would be passage of a transportation budget to unplug bottlenecked corridors where the state’s freight and traffic are now getting slowly strangled.

The $10 billion package – approved Thursday by the House of Representatives – is of paramount importance to the state’s economy.

Only one Republican – Puyallup’s Hans Zeiger – had the guts to support it. Most other lawmakers in his party appear willing to kill it for one reason: The highway improvements require new tax revenue. These legislators chatter about massive reforms in the Department of Transportation and other near-term impossibilities, but it really comes down to evading a tax vote.

At the risk of belaboring the obvious, roads and bridges don’t grow on trees. Santa Claus doesn’t lug them down the chimney. You’ve got to buy them.

If you don’t need them, that’s one thing. But Washington sorely needs strategic investment in its infrastructure – in Spokane, at Snoqualmie Pass, on Interstate 405 and other places where cargo and cars are getting halted for lack of road capacity.

State Route 167 is the poster child of lost economic opportunity. That highway passes from I-405 through Renton, Kent and Auburn – only to get guillotined at Puyallup. A mere six miles separate it from the Port of Tacoma and the I-5 corridor.
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June
25th

No excuses on state transportation vote

This editorial will appear in Wednesday’s print edition.

The Legislature must pass an operating budget before it calls it quits for the year. That’s a constitutional necessity. But it must also pass a transportation package. That’s an economic necessity.

With the special session winding down, the prospects of the $10 billion highway-and-transit proposal remain precarious. Lawmakers can’t let it fail. The consequences of its passage — or its rejection — are literally incalculable.

Aside from a festering dispute over a new bridge between Vancouver and Portland, the projects in the package enjoy broad support.

The most important of them, the Puget Sound Gateway, would break open freight chokepoints by extending state Route 167 from Puyallup to the Port of Tacoma, and by extending state Route 509 from the SeaTac area south to Interstate 5.

If those chokepoints stay in place, they could ultimately turn the ports of Tacoma and Seattle into maritime backwaters as Pacific Rim shippers and manufacturers shift their cargoes to competing routes free of chronic congestion.

Other regions have big stakes in this measure:

• It would earmark $175 million to rebuild I-5 interchanges near Joint Base Lewis-McChord to ease traffic jams that paralyze the freeway on a regular basis.

• It would widen and add lanes to Interstate 405 to relieve congestion in that corridor.

• It would extend highway and rail corridors in Spokane, expanding that area’s freight-shipping capacity. It would also widen Snoqualmie Pass to improve its safety and ability to handle large trucks.

Freight mobility isn’t a particularly sexy issue, but the ability to efficiently move goods — apples, jet components, electronics, wheat — is vital to Washington economic future. All of these projects would help move people efficiently as well.
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June
15th

State lawmakers: Miles to go before they sleep

This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.

The Legislature’s inability to approve a budget is starting to look dangerous, not just loopy.

State lawmakers are now in their third session, the Senate and House of Representatives having failed to agree on a spending plan in the first two.

The paralysis is partisan: The Senate is controlled by Republicans, the House by Democrats. Without action, much of state government could be shut down as of midnight June 30. That’s when the existing budget expires, and the Washington Constitution requires legislative approval for further spending.

While a shutdown isn’t likely, it’s got better odds than the Mayan doomsday. In the meantime, the state is running up against deadlines for preliminary actions, such as warning school employees of potential layoffs.

The Senate and House absolutely must agree on three things: an operating budget, a construction budget and a transportation package that would pay for critical highway projects around the state – including the completion of state Route 167 between Puyallup and the Port of Tacoma.

Republicans and Democrats may be within striking distance on overall spending, but they’re far apart on some of the specifics.

A couple of measures being pressed by the Senate aren’t worth fighting over. One is a move to “fix” compensation for injured workers.

As the law stands, permanently disabled workers in their 50s have the option of taking lump sum payments in lieu of lifelong pensions. A Senate bill would extend that option to workers in their 40s. This can hold until next year.

So can a measure that would let the state’s payday lenders loan more money for longer terms. It’s dumbfounding that some lawmakers cherish this industry so much that they’d hold the entire state budget hostage for its sake.

But the Senate deserves credit for trying to force education reforms. Compared to the House, it would spend more money on the K-12 system and earmark more for efforts to lift the performance of disadvantaged students.
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June
2nd

Farewell, Sen. Carrell; hello (we hope) to Sen. Muri

This editorial will appear in Monday’s print edition.

Few Pierce County lawmakers have grown as much in office as state Sen. Mike Carrell of Lakewood.

His death Wednesday deprived his 28th Legislative District of a distinguished legislator — and also deprived the Republican Party of a vote it needed to retain control of the Senate.

Carrell might not have been so widely missed in Olympia in the 1990s, after he was first elected to the House of Representatives. He charged into office as a hard-edged ideologue chiefly known for leading a campaign to reduce fathers’ child support obligations. He could be abrasive in dealing with people he disagreed with.

Even then, though, he proved capable of winning passage of a landmark law, the Becca Bill. Named after a 13-year-old runaway girl found beaten to death in Spokane, the law expanded the power of courts and parents to detain and rescue youths on a self-destructive trajectory.

The Becca Bill also transformed the state’s truancy policies, requiring fast intervention when students started to skip classes without excuses. It became the foundation of many different efforts to save minors from the streets. The law’s tough love was a big improvement on permissive 1970s policies that had bestowed upon kids the freedom to jump off cliffs.

By the time Carrell was appointed to the Senate in 2004, the hard edges were softening. Most notably, he collaborated with then-Sen. Debbie Regala — a Tacoma Democrat — to fix the way the state Department of Corrections released felons from prison.

Their “fair share” bill helped protect Pierce County from the state’s penchant for dumping ex-cons here — a practice that saddled the county with an intolerably high crime rate. The legislation also provided more assistance to those released inmates to help them transition to life outside prison.
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May
25th

SR 167: A job-creating bridge waiting to be built

This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.

Washington is getting a taste of what it’s like to lose a critical stretch of a major highway.

Before it collapsed Thursday, the Skagit River Bridge on Interstate 5 carried roughly 70,000 vehicles a day, more than 8,000 of them trucks. Its collapse severed the main artery that links the economy of the Puget Sound region to Vancouver, B.C.

The disruption shows how one highway fracture can choke the movement of people and goods hundreds of miles away. But Washington has already suffered another – less visible – highway failure that’s done far more damage in recent decades.

Helicopters with camera crews may not be circling it, but the unfinished six-mile gap between state Route 167 and the Port of Tacoma is also strangling commerce and jobs. It’s the economic equivalent of a ruptured freeway no one bothered to fix.

SR 167, which now runs from Interstate 405 in Renton to the Puyallup area, was always supposed to turn west and connect to Interstate 5 and the port.

The extension has been planned for more than 30 years. Right of way has been purchased, environmental preliminaries are complete, and much of the design work is done.

But the concrete isn’t there – which means that Pacific Rim exporters cannot smoothly move their freight past the port, and Washington farmers and manufacturers cannot smoothly move their goods to the port.

The obstruction has been costing the state tens of thousands of high-paying jobs. Increasingly, it is tempting maritime shippers to look for alternative routes to Chicago and other big inland markets.

Six hundred miles north of here, the once tiny but rapidly expanding terminal at Prince Rupert – the location of North America’s deepest ice-free harbor – has suddenly emerged as a ferocious competitor for Puget Sound shipping. One of the Canadian port’s key advantages is an unobstructed railway corridor to the heart of the United States.
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May
18th

The Pierce-South King county delegation

2nd Legislative District: Sen. Randi Becker, Reps. Gary Alexander and
J.T. Wilcox.

25th District: Sen. Bruce Dammeier, Reps. Dawn Morrell and Hans Zeiger.

26th District: Sen. Nathan Schlicher, Reps. Jan Angel and Larry Seaquist.

27th District: Sen. Jeannie Darneille, Reps. Laurie Jinkins and Jake Fey.

28th District: Sen. Mike Carrell, Reps. Steve O’Ban and Tami Green.

29th District: Sen. Steve Conway, Reps. David Sawyer and Steve Kirby

30th District: Sen. Tracey Eide, Reps. Linda Kochmar and Roger Freeman.

31st District: Sen. Pam Roach, Reps. Cathy Dahlquist and Christopher Hurst.

To contact your legislator, follow this link.