Good things come to those who wait. That's my takeaway from the recently concluded, epic Washington state legislative session. At 177 days — that's nearly six months — it's the longest session ever, ending just hours before the state might have shut down. But for Eastern Washington, it was also a huge success.
Our local delegation — Republicans and Democrats alike — should be congratulated for finishing the political equivalent of an Ironman. And the finish line is sweet indeed: funding at last to finish the north-south freeway, which we've been talking about for at least 60 years, along with other important (and multimodal) local transportation projects; and funding to not only start a new medical school in Spokane under the auspices of Washington State University, but also to fully fund WWAMI medical education via the University of Washington here in Spokane. Really, that med school outcome is so ridiculously good for Spokane, I almost feel like we're getting punked.
"This budget counters the urban myth that the west side gets everything in Olympia," says Sen. Andy Billig (D-Spokane) as he thinks back on the session. "The transportation revenue package, to me, that's as big a win as I can remember for Spokane."
Billig adds that the legislature also made sure to restore some of the funding to mental health programs that had been cut during the recession, responding to crises in mental health care delivery that we've reported here.
Sen. Michael Baumgartner (R-Spokane) saw his dream of rolling back tuition at state colleges and universities become a reality, something that few expected would ever happen. And that's just part of what many have called the richest education budget in state history, investing in our future with $1.3 billion in new money for K-12, along with the tuition rollback.
Despite that, the legislature was still getting dinged for not fully addressing outstanding education funding directives from the state Supreme Court and Initiative 1351. But big-picture, this was a huge victory for education, and Billig hopes citizens can be patient as the legislature works through the complexity of complying with the McCleary decision and finds ways to address the spirit of I-1351. With a price tag for both that could approach $10 billion that we don't have (although firm numbers are hard to come by), it's clear that we need to have a grown-up conversation about education funding, not the mindless political bludgeoning we've been getting.
We live in a vibrant state, with a dynamic economy and a bright future, and despite all the last-minute dramatics, our legislature just delivered — big time. ♦