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Olympia Preview: 5 issues to watch in 2014

The new session opens on Monday. And yes the Legislature needs watching.


Credit: Allyce Andrew

No man's life, liberty or property are safe while the legislature is in session.
Mark Twain

Twain would have torn his crazy white hair out during last year’s protracted legislative session, when democracy itself seemed at risk. Or at least edging into territory worthy of the great satirist's attention. Olympia 2013 was about gridlock and procedural hijinks that persisted through a 105-day regular session and two, count 'em two 30-day special sessions. Olympia came close to a D.C.-style partial shutdown. 

We’re hoping that lawmakers have learned a bit about comity and collaboration — maybe even sipped a little bipartisan KoolAid — during their months-long legislative hiatus, which ends Monday. Anything to get the gears of government grinding more smoothly in 2014. After all, even though this is not a budget wrangling year, there'is still a lot to do. The big question: Will lawmakers do it together? Will 2014 be the year they bridge the political chasm or deepen the divide? 

Here are the five big issues we’ll be keeping a close eye on this year. We invite you to watch along with us.

 

The Money

The 2014 session starts with a sigh of relief: No budget crisis. Lawmakers don't have to haggle over cuts to the state’s $33.4 billion pot. They just have to argue over how much to save vs. how much to spend. A rare, albeit mandatory, area of potential agreement is spending more for the public school improvements ordered by the state Supreme Court in its McCleary decision. Expect bickering over precisely how much the public schools will get.

Overall, Democrats will push harder for new money, not just for schools but for social and mental health services. Republicans will respond with arguments about saving for the (inevitable) rainy days ahead, and push back hard for pension reforms that save taxpayer money at the expense of public workers. Certain to come up in the wake of the vote by Boeing machinists to give up their pensions: Should lawmakers switch their pensions to 401-k plans?

That’s not the only Boeing afterglow: Those ginormous, build-it-here-please, tax breaks the Legislature and governor happily handed Boeing did not go unnoticed by tech, ag and other state business sectors, who are now eager to get lawmakers’ ears. Already new House Republican Leader Dan Kristiansen is arguing that "what’s good for one should be good for all." Ka-ching!

Why you should care? Because no state income tax means Washington depends on revenue from business, sales and property taxes to fund essential government services. Legislators are in constant scramble mode trying to balance the burden on businesses with the costs of public education, mental health care, environmental protection and the like. Lean too far in either direction and the economy slips or human misery mounts — more likely both.


The Environment

This is the Evergreen State and we like it clean. That’s one thing you can get agreement on in Olympia. Beyond that, lawmakers don't even speak the same language.

On climate, the differences are so vast that Gov. Jay Inslee's efforts to strike a deal with Republicans on serious climate action are probably DOA. Expect lots of posturing, alternative proposals and maybe some executive orders from the governor (which could induce GOP fainting spells).

Water quality issues have a better chance of bipartisan movement, especially in the wake of a new study showing measurable deterioration in Bellingham Bay. Environmental groups warn that the rapid increase in oil trains and the increased risk potential for spills and explosions threaten waterways and towns across the state. Boeing and other Washington manufacturers fear — and are sure to lobby against — the imposition of tougher water quality standards and the costs associated with them. 


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Comments:

Posted Fri, Jan 10, 2:22 p.m. Inappropriate

"Why you should care? Because it's kids! Who grow up to be adults. Who pay for your social security! If they have jobs. Even legislators who complain about overpaying teachers — as if we're even close to that horror — admit kids will benefit from more spending on education. If we do it right. A well-educated workforce is a bottom-line draw for the kind of 21st century industries Washington wants to attract and keep happy, not to mention the path to a more civil and sustainable state."

You can always tell the voice of reason at Crosscut.

I'm with this quasi-Libertarian view. Look, hate the teachers union, think the schools already have enough money or spend it wrong but an educated populace serves every single one of us.

We baby boomers are counting on Social Security? For the millions of us out there? We damn well better start paying for public education instead of trying to tear it into a thousand little pieces.

This idea - via people like Rodney Tom - that we need ed reforms BEFORE more money flows to the schools is ridiculous. Washington State has not, for decades, funded public education to even the national AVERAGE. C'mon, you fund that low and you think we will have great academic outcomes?

Also, Senator Tom wants ed reform like grading schools A-F. Honestly? Because, for example, in Seattle, our schools ALL have a report card full of information that goes far beyond a single score. That's how you judge a school. And yet, ask why legislators wouldn't want a once- a-year grade for themselves, and they say that's silly.

Lastly, to Senator Tom (and others), if you believe there is enough money already in schools but it's being spent wrongly. Then please, please, please tell us - what would YOU cut and what would you replace it with? I'm still waiting for that answer.

But I'm sure Tom is quite busy now that a King County court says that charter schools are not "common schools" and therefore, not eligible for state education dollars. No problem say charter supporters in the legislature - there are dollars elsewhere.

Really? Do tell - because there's either some secret pot of money in Olympia OR some poor state program is going to see their funding cut in order to fund these charter schools.

So another good question for Senator Tom and the ed reformers. What program gets the axe for charter schools to exist?

westello

Posted Sat, Jan 11, 5:40 a.m. Inappropriate

"Lastly, to Senator Tom (and others), if you believe there is enough money already in schools but it's being spent wrongly. Then please, please, please tell us - what would YOU cut and what would you replace it with? I'm still waiting for that answer."

Actively assist the Federal Government in the enforcement of immigration laws. Stop providing Drivers Licenses and Sanctuary for illegal aliens. Insist on E-verify for all employment, insist on positive identification legal residence to receive any government assistance.

The answer to your question is that when you have 50,000 school aged illegal aliens and the children of illegal aliens in our schools at an average of about $10,000 each, you just cut your McCleary costs by at least half a billion dollars a year. You are required to educate anyone who shows up, but you are not required as a state to allow illegal aliens to live and work in your state. Washington State encourages illegal aliens, it needs to stop. The benefits to legal, taxpaying citizens go far beyond education funding.

Cameron

Posted Sat, Jan 11, 12:07 p.m. Inappropriate

So the solution to the education budget is for the state to aggressively enforce federal immigration laws? And what will that cost? The cost won't just be for the enforcement but also the additional costs to businesses (who will not be able to compete with businesses in other states), and the additional costs to consumers due to higher prices. What is the total net economic impact of illegal immigrants? Isn't it positive? If it weren't, then wouldn't the invisible hand of the market prevent it?

I have never understood the anti-immigration stand of conservatives. Don't you have the right to live and work and where you want? Is that right granted by the state? Does the state grant us our rights or are they among those inalienable rights endowed to us by our creator? Then isn't it a human right? Other than to stop people with criminal records, communicable diseases, or no means of support, why should the government restrict anyone's entry to the U.S.? What were the immigration laws set down by the framers? Shouldn't people be allowed to pursue more lucrative work if they want to? Isn't that a free market and aren't free markets good? Why do we restrict the free movement of labor but not capital? Restrictive immigration laws are clearly contrary to conservative principles. They should be advocating laissez-faire immigration. Isn't it true that the government that governs least governs best? Someone please help me to understand why conservatives oppose loose immigration.

coolpapa

Posted Sat, Jan 11, 12:07 p.m. Inappropriate

The delete button doesn't work

coolpapa

Posted Sat, Jan 11, 12:07 p.m. Inappropriate

I can't delete this for some reason.

coolpapa

Posted Sat, Jan 11, 11:53 a.m. Inappropriate

Hey, maybe the Education Reform legislators are on to something. I've got a great idea! Let's give the legislators a letter grade of A-F to better inform the public. The letter grade can be based on the amount of state funds they garner for their district relative to the amount of state tax revenue their district contributes. Or, maybe, the letter grade could be based on the per capita income of their constituents.

Oh! And since the legislature is doing such a crappy job, let's start an alternative state government and allow us to direct our tax dollars to that alternative government instead. Hey, if the alternative state governments do a poor job they will go out of business because their revenue will dry up. Or is the state senate afraid of competition?

coolpapa

Posted Sun, Jan 12, 3:55 p.m. Inappropriate

" Because no state income tax means Washington depends on revenue from business, sales and property taxes to fund essential government services."
I get it. If we had an income tax these pesky problems would go away! we cannot, of course, raise property or sales taxes, people would notice that. Actually, they would notice an income tax too, maybe that's why it has been rejected by Washington State voters twice in the last few decades. It's possible that Washingtonians are not willing to pay higher taxes whether it is sales, income or property taxes and that adding a category of taxes would make little or no difference at all, just complicate our lives.

kieth

Posted Mon, Jan 13, 5:19 p.m. Inappropriate

California -- one of the 43 out of 50 states that has an income tax -- is running a surplus this year.

sarah90

Posted Tue, Jan 14, 11:46 a.m. Inappropriate

What is the unfunded pension liability and debt owed by the State of California Sarah90. Saying California is running a surplus this year is like saying "I can't possibly be out of money, I still have checks in my check book."

Cameron

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