Transportation package tops wish list in Olympia

OLYMPIA — As a new legislative session began Monday, Snohomish County’s delegation expressed bipartisan support for a transportation package in some form and money for Washington State University in Everett.

Lawmakers also hope to see the state provide better services for those in the county who have a mental illness, to improve the state’s ability to detect and map landslide hazards, and to lock up money for projects in communities affected by the Oso mudslide.

Those are the issues that seemed to unite county lawmakers, regardless of party, as the 105-day session opened.

Snohomish County, the third-most-populous county in the state, is represented by 21 lawmakers, of whom 14 serve in the House and seven in the Senate. Of those, 13 are Democrats and eight are Republicans.

While it’s rare for them all to agree on any one budget item or policy, those interviewed Monday and in the weeks prior zeroed in on transportation as the issue most important to every district in Snohomish and Island counties.

They said any new transportation package must ease the commute, improve the flow of freight and increase accountability in state projects.

“The issues in transportation are only going to get worse if we don’t do something,” said Sen. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor. “But we need to make sure every dollar we spend in transportation is actually mitigating the problems we have.”

There’s concern that the proposal put forth by Gov. Jay Inslee in December was hundreds of millions of dollars shy of what lawmakers think Snohomish County deserves. The governor’s 12-year, $12.2 billion transportation package contained only $81.8 million for road projects in the county.

“We’re going to try to get our fair share,” said Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Transportation Committee.

Lawmakers are backing a request from Washington State University for $61.1 million to build a four-story structure in north Everett that would be the new home for the WSU-run University Center. They also want to see as much as $4.5 million earmarked for WSU to offer additional courses at the center.

“We need to expand the degree programs there and begin to look at serving more of the community, especially in the 10th District,” said Bailey, who is chairwoman of the Senate Higher Education Committee.

Several lawmakers are pushing to get $1.6 million to renovate the Carnegie building next to the Snohomish County Jail in Everett. They propose a place where low-level offenders who are homeless can live and obtain mental health and substance abuse treatment and job training.

“It should help break the cycle of recidivism,” said Rep. June Robinson, D-Everett.

Without blinking, every lawmaker wants to invest in expanding the state’s use of remote sensing technology known as lidar to map areas of landslide hazards. And they expect ample funding for community projects where the tragic March 22 mudslide left its mark.

Several statewide concerns are also local concerns.

For example, this session lawmakers are expected to give public schools an injection of $750 million — and maybe more — to satisfy an order by the state Supreme Court.

“Our schools are stretched and overloaded, just like other schools,” said Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish.

State Rep. Ruth Kagi, D-Seattle, who represents south Snohomish County, will be focused on getting additional dollars into early childhood education and to create “a high quality network of early learning services.”

Kagi also might sponsor a bill requiring safe storage of weapons. It would hold adults responsible if a child gets hold of a weapon and then harms another person, accidentally or intentionally, or takes their own life.

Another statewide issue with strong local interest is harmonizing the rules for medical marijuana dispensaries and the fledgling, state-regulated recreational marijuana industry.

“That’s a problem that needs to be solved,” said Rep. Derek Stanford, D-Bothell, whose district includes the Clearview area, where several dispensaries operate. “We need to preserve access to medical marijuana, but we need a unified system.”

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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