It’s over. For this year at least.
Following a 60-day session, with a 20-day special session tacked on, the Legislature was able to complete major tasks in passing a supplemental budget and setting up a framework for next year to tackle the question of K-12 education funding and end the state’s reliance on local school levies for basic education.
Before recapping what was accomplished, however, a few significant failures for this session must be noted:
- The Legislature made inadequate provision to prevent what has been called the “levy cliff,” a lowering of the cap on the amount of a school district’s budget can come from levy revenue. That cap drops to 24 percent from 28 percent in 2017.
A pledge that the cap can be raised again next year if the Legislature fails to act by the end of next April will come too late for districts such as Everett, which stands to lose $10 million in revenue over the next two years and will have to begin making significant budget cuts, including layoffs.
- Nor did the Legislature include any provision to increase salaries for starting teachers or those already in the workforce, in the face of a statewide teacher shortage.
- And the Senate failed to approve the Washington Voting Rights Act, which passed in the House, and would have allowed under-represented communities in cities and elsewhere to seek voting by district without having to undertake a costly and time-consuming process in the federal courts.
But to give the Legislature its due, there were accomplishments, including funding for projects in Snohomish County:
- The city of Everett, seeking to address chronic homelessness, secured $1.5 million of $2 million in sought to add to $2 million of its own and Snohomish County’s investment to buy and refurbish a building to provide 60 to 70 units of low-barrier housing. As well, Cocoon House in Everett will receive $1 million through the Housing Trust Fund for its work.
- Other funding included in the capital budget includes $390,000 for the Lake Stevens Civic Center, $275,000 for the Mill Creek Parks and Public Works Shop and $77,000 for the Edmonds Veterans Plaza.
- The budget also allocates $580,000 to launch an organic agriculture degree program at Washington State University North Puget Sound in Everett.
Among legislation worth noting:
- The Legislature addressed the Washington State Patrol’s loss of troopers to other law enforcement agencies, by allocating $5 million for pay increases.
- It increased the civil penalties for violations of the state’s Open Public Meetings Act to $500 from $100, restoring some sting to fines for public officials who attempt to hide discussions and actions in closed-door meetings.
- The Legislature also passed reforms to the Washington Wildlife and Recreation grant program, which recently marked its 25th year. The program reviews and prioritizes grant requests from cities, counties, agencies and organizations for park acquisition and development, habitat conservation and farmland preservation.
After attempts were made last year by some lawmakers to hijack a fair and deliberative process to rank requests, this year legislators, working with parks and wildlife advocates, rebalanced the program to provide more funding for development and maintenance of park land and recreation facilities.
Those and other legislative accomplishments are worth celebrating.
Even so, the Legislature has left itself a heavy load to lift come 2017. Lawmakers had better rest up.