The session starts Jan. 14. Here’s what you’ll be hearing about:
The state budget will undoubtedly dominate the conversation, especially initially, as the state faces a $900 million shortfall for coming years. Outgoing Gov. Chris Gregoire proposed one budget with no new revenue and deep cuts, and another that increases school and parks spending but reduces a fuel tax break and extends an in-patient fee that goes toward Medicaid. We have yet to see incoming Gov. Jay Inslee’s take on it, but legislators will hash out the details of their own versions, meaning a slew of potential cuts and the expected “cut spending” vs. “increase taxes” arguments. And that’s also drawing attention to the state’s other huge unanswered question. A year ago, the state Supreme Court ruled that Washington was not adequately funding public education. But how to fix that problem has come back to a deep divide among lawmakers, with some rallying behind an “education first” mantra, arguing public schools should be the state’s first priority, and others worrying that will result in too many social service cuts.
“Some legislators are caught between two major issues,” says 6th District Rep. Kevin Parker. “[But] when we look at those issues, scholars are saying the ladder out of poverty is education.”
Parker and House Majority Leader Rep. Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, both say transportation will be another hot topic. Unfunded projects across the state — including the North-South Freeway — will compete for money. Sullivan says the house will have a new committee focused on technology and the economy, and he expects Inslee to release a “green jobs” package. Last week, at a gathering of progressive activists, 3rd District Representative-turned-Senator Andy Billig said he’s planning to focus on election reform. He ultimately hopes to limit spending on initiatives, but considering constitutional protections of spending-as-speech, that’s unlikely for now. In the meantime he’s working on a bill to list the top three or five funders of initiatives on ballots and in voter guides.
— HEIDI GROOVER