What the Legislature got done in 2015

Having noted Congress’ accomplishments for 2015 yesterday, we’ll continue in the same vein for the Washington Legislature, but we’re also making mention of where those accomplishments fell short — the “yeah-buts” where attention should be paid in the new year.

The Legislature had two big to-do items this year: continued work to meet a state Supreme Court order to amply fund K-12 education and pass a transportation package that would fund a backlog of road and bridge maintenance, new road construction and transit programs.

But we’ll start with some accomplishments specific to Snohomish County:

The Legislature responded well to continuing needs, following the March 22, 2014, Oso landslide in the Stillaguamish Valley. Along with addressing flaws in the emergency response to the disaster that were outlined in the SR 530 Landslide Commission’s report, lawmakers approved $4.6 million to undertake a geological hazards mapping program that will use lidar (light detection and ranging) technology to sweep more than 3,000 square miles in lowlands between Everett and Bellingham to find areas most prone to the threat of landslides.

The yeah-but: Additional funding will be needed in coming years to complete the mapping program statewide.

The Legislature in its capital budget also provided funds for projects to assist in the economic recovery of affected communities, including improvements to the Boys &Girls Club in Arlington and a skate park and other projects in Darrington. The yeah-but: There’s plenty more that the Legislature and many others can do for the valley as outlined in the recently released North Stillaguamish Valley Economic Redevelopment Plan.

Among other county projects in the capital budget:

Responding to the shooting at Marysville Pilchuck High School’s cafeteria that claimed the lives of four students and the shooter, legislators provided $7 million toward the construction of a new cafeteria for the school.

Lawmakers approved $64.5 million for construction of the new four-story, 95,000-square-foot home for the Everett University Center and Washington State University’s North Puget Sound program at the Everett Community College campus. The yeah-but: Gov. Jay Inslee, in his supplemental budget to be considered in the legislative session that begins Jan. 11, declined to include about $800,000 to fund four agricultural degree programs proposed at WSU North Puget Sound.

The Legislature also gave the go-ahead for Washington State University to establish a medical school, a charter previously granted only to the University of Washington. The school, to be named for the late WSU President Elson Floyd, who died this June, will increase the number of medical students and seek to place them in their third and fourth years outside the state’s larger urban areas.

Lawmakers approved a $16.1 billion, 16-year transportation budget that identified about $670 million in spending for projects in Snohomish County, a vast improvement over the $82 million that the governor had outline in his initial budget. Along with providing significant spending for roads, bridges, transit and other programs, the lawmakers, particularly many Republicans, were realistic about funding the improvements and passed a 11.9-cent-a-gallon gas tax increase over two years.

The lawmakers also gave approval for two transit agencies to seek voter approval to fund future transit projects: Community Transit, which won voter approval for a new Swift bus line, and Sound Transit which will put a package before voters in November to extend Link light rail to Everett.

The yeah-but: While appreciative for the $670 million for projects in the county, leaders, including Economic Development Snohomish County have identified more than $1 billion in projects they see as vital to the county residents and the state’s largest manufacturing area.

The Legislature, ordered to wean the state’s education funding away from local school levies for basic education, increased education spending by $1.3 billion, much of that going to reduce teacher-student ratios in K-3 classrooms and offer all-day kindergarten throughout the state. It also significantly lowered tuition for all residents at state colleges.

The leaves the biggest yeah-but of the year: The state Supreme Court continues to levy $100,000-a-day fines against the state because of the Legislature’s failure to show an adequate plan for how it will meet its constitutional mandate to amply fund basic education without relying on school levies. And it has only delayed implementation of the costly class-size limits voters approved with the passage of I-1351.

Republicans carried the day in 2015 by closing some tax loopholes and avoiding any new taxes, rejecting a carbon tax and capital gains tax sought by the governor. The yeah-buts in funding education don’t get any easier to satisfy in 2016 and 2017.

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