Since October, the Herald Editorial Board has outlined what it sees as priorities for the Legislature as it begins its 105-day session on Monday. We recap a few of them here:
Education: Not that the Legislature should have needed additional motivation, but the threat of penalties from the state Supreme Court’s contempt of court citation require that the state make adequate progress in fully funding education as its “paramount duty” in the state constitution. We endorsed Gov. Jay Inslee’s education budget, which would spend $2.3 billion for the 2015-17 biennium, including $156 million for early childhood education programs; $1.3 billion to increase basic education funding and reduce K-3 class sizes; $596 million for education pension payments and pay raises as well as restore Initiative 732’s cost-of-living salary increases for teachers; and $126 million to freeze resident undergraduate tuition and fund the state’s pledge for the Opportunity Scholarship program. Inslee’s budget does meet most of the specific funding requests we endorsed for Rep. Ruth Kagi’s early childhood education and Early Start program and provides $70 million for the state’s community and technical colleges.
The Legislature also must address what to do about Initiative 1351, which called for an ambitious hiring program for teachers and other school employees. We urged the Legislature to amend or suspend the initiative, not because we disagreed with its goal, but because its $6.7 billion in additional costs in the next four years complicates the state’s education funding work and could unintentionally force cuts to other education programs.
We also endorsed state schools superintendent Randy Dorn’s proposal to not require that students take two standardized tests as the state makes the transition from the current test to one based on the new national common core standards. State officials and the Legislature need to settle on a testing standard and a method of measuring student proficiency and stick with it.
Transportation: In his $12.2 billion transportation spending plan, Inslee’s budget badly shortchanged Snohomish County, outlining only $81.8 million in projects, compared to $3.9 billion in projects for King County. The Legislature must rebalance the transportation package and provide more funding for projects that benefit the state’s largest manufacturing center, here in Snohomish County.
Taxes: Inslee proposed two new taxes in his budgets. A carbon cap-and-trade tax, 40 percent of which would be used for transportation, 40 percent for the general fund. He also proposes a capital gains tax, a 7 percent tax on earnings on the sale of stocks and bonds above $25,000 for individuals and $50,000 for joint filers. Homes, farms and retirement accounts would be exempt from the tax. Because of a heavy reliance on sales tax, Washington has the most regressive tax burden in the nation, meaning lower-income families pay a higher percentage of their income than more affluent families. Both proposals deserve consideration in the Legislature, but in the case of transportation funding, if there isn’t enough support for the carbon tax, then an increase of the gas tax appears to be the only other option.
The Oso landslide: The Legislature should implement as much as is possible in the SR 530 Landslide Commission’s report, including statewide mapping of landslide-prone areas using lidar and a clarification of the law that enables first responders to call immediately for incident management and resources from the State Patrol.
Stilly Valley Youth Project: The governor outlines $5.2 million in his capital budget for the Stilly Valley Youth Project, which funds several improvements in Arlington and Darrington, including renovations of the Arlington Boys &Girls Club, to assist families following the Oso landslide.
Firearm safety: Recent events in the county emphasize the need for a law that would make it more difficult for firearms to fall into the hands of children. Rep. Kagi will resubmit a bill proposed last year that would require that firearms be safely stored where children are present, providing for a charge of reckless endangerment if an unsupervised child under 16 is allowed and gains access to a loaded unsecured weapon.
Long-term care: Our aging population, cuts to Medicaid and a lack of options for long-term care insurance leave individuals and the state open to excessive costs in caring for the elderly. The Legislature should reauthorize a joint legislative committee that has been studying the problem and should fund a $400,000 feasibility study of potential solutions.