Less than a month away from Election Day and three months out from the start of the legislative session, it’s not too early to start jotting down the to-do list for state senators and representatives. You can do this on a post-it note:
No. 1. Fully fund education.
No. 2. Fund and pass a transportation package.
No. 3. See Nos. 1 and 2.
Just in case the threat of a contempt-of-court charge from the state Supreme Court isn’t enough motivation, the Washington Roundtable, a public policy organization focused on the state’s business environment, recently published its annual report, Benchmarks for a Better Washington. The benchmarks are a list of measurements that address education, transportation and business, ranking the state against the other 49.
It’s a mixed report card.
In terms of business climate, Washington ranks first in the nation for lowest commercial and industrial electricity rates, up from No. 3 a year ago. And it’s 13th in terms of private sector job creation. The next few steps are a bit of a doozy: It ranks 33rd for business tax burden, 44th for unemployment insurance taxes and 50th for workers’ compensation costs.
Likewise, education and innovation have their highs and lows: The state ranks fifth for number of patents generated, sixth in student math achievement and 18th for student science achievement. But we rank in the bottom half of states for our high school graduation rate (32nd) and the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded per capita (38th).
Washington can’t count itself among leading states in transportation: It’s 36th for road conditions, dropping from 29th last year; 38th for average commute time and 41st for bridge conditions. The last one shouldn’t surprise anyone after the May 23, 2013, collapse of I-5’s bridge over the Skagit River, which was classified as functionally obsolete prior to its collapse. A full 21 percent of all bridges in the state are considered functionally obsolete.
Steven Mullin, Washington Roundtable president, said he’d like to see some legislative action on the other business climate benchmarks, but the real urgency is on education and transportation.
Which brings us back to that post-it note.
The Legislature must find an estimated $2 billion, presumably a mixture of savings and new revenue, to satisfy the state’s chief mandate to fully fund education as outlined in the Supreme Court’s McCleary decision.
The Legislature was unable in its 2014 session — truthfully, the Senate was unable — to pass an $8 billion transportation package that included a gas tax and motor vehicle taxes that would have funded major highway improvements and maintenance and transit projects.
Getting both done will require compromise, a willingness by Democrats and Republicans, House and Senate, to give on this to get that.
Checking education and transportation off that to-do list should do a lot to start budging those benchmark numbers up and making the state more attractive to businesses that can create and keep jobs here.
Now, after the election, take that post-it note and hand it to the nearest legislator.