Civic officials, community leaders and business owners converged at the 2020 legislative kick-off at the Jackson Center at Everett Community College on Friday. (Economic Alliance Snohomish County)

Civic officials, community leaders and business owners converged at the 2020 legislative kick-off at the Jackson Center at Everett Community College on Friday. (Economic Alliance Snohomish County)

Lawmakers chew the fat with civic leaders in session warm-up

Transportation funding, early learning programs and behavioral health services are on their agendas

EVERETT — Funding transportation, addressing homelessness, expanding early learning and combating climate change are among the topics lawmakers predict will consume their attention in the upcoming legislative session.

That’s the message six delivered Friday to civic officials, community leaders and business owners at the 2020 legislative kick-off sponsored by Economic Alliance Snohomish County. The two-hour event drew roughly 120 people to the Jackson Center at Everett Community College.

The session begins Jan. 13 and is slated to last 60 days.

One task will be adopting supplements to the two-year operating, capital and transportation budgets that lawmakers passed and Gov. Jay Inslee signed last year.

This is an election year — all 98 seats in the House and roughly half in the Senate are up for election — which usually means lawmakers look to avoid voting on controversial matters and try to finish on time.

Or earlier.

“Let’s get done in 59 days,” said Sen. Marko Liias, D-Lynnwood, in his opening statement.

Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, lacked his colleague’s optimism.

The chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee said he’ll be wrestling with how to deal with Initiative 976. If the voter-approved measure is found constitutional, it will carve a roughly $450 million hole in the current state transportation budget. Since its legal fate isn’t expected to be known before the session’s end, Hobbs said lawmakers need to plan for the worst case scenario.

“I want to get out in 60 days and try to do no harm to business,” he told the crowd. “Transportation is very bad. That is going to be very daunting. I hope it won’t keep us in special session. But it might.”

Several times Friday, Hobbs trumpeted his proposal for a new statewide transportation package to overcome the potential of lost revenue. It would be funded in part through a new fee on carbon emissions or a cap-and-trade system. The plan, which he introduced in the 2019 session, would raise around $16 billion to build new bridges, widen old highways, bolster public transit, and open up fish passages.

“That’s a hard lift during an election year,” he admitted.

Also taking part Friday were Republican Sen. Keith Wagoner, of Sedro-Woolley, Democratic Sen. Jesse Salomon, of Shoreline, and Democratic Reps. Lauren Davis, of Shoreline, and Davina Duerr, of Bothell.

Wagoner and Davis each said improving the range and availability of behavioral health services will be among their priorities.

And Davis, Salomon and Liias each said they hoped the Legislature would increase state funding for early learning programs, and greater access to preschool and affordable child care.

On the subject of the homeless, Patrick Pierce, chief executive officer for Economic Alliance Snohomish County, asked if they supported Inslee’s proposal to use $146 million in emergency reserves to boost funding. It will take a supermajority vote of the Legislature to access those dollars.

“The governor’s idea is worth looking at,” Liias said. The investments are needed and the question is whether the Rainy Day fund is the right source, he said.

Salomon said, “I’m not sure it makes sense” to tap that fund. He suggested more attention be given to stimulate private development of affordable housing.

Wagoner, meanwhile, wondered if the large sum will make a difference.

“Money might be part of the answer but we’ve seen lots of money spent” with little or no results, he said.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@herald Twitter: @dospueblos.

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