Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

A recap of CityClub's 2007 legislative preview

The 2007 session of the Washington State Legislature started last Monday, January 8th, and is scheduled to end April 22nd. This is a 105-day long session, in which adopting a biennial budget will be the focus.

Two Democratic leaders, Sen. Lisa Brown (Spokane, 3rd LD) and Rep. Lynn Kessler (Grays Harbor, 24th LD), and two Republican leaders, Sen. Mike Hewitt (Walla Walla, 16th LD) and Rep. David Buri (Colfax, 9th LD) presented an overview of what we might expect in the 2007 session for several hundred members and guests of the City Club on January 5th.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown pledged to insure all children in the state by 2010 and to invest in our people, in education and health care, echoing the Governor’s priorities.

Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt pointed out that last year, Republicans passed five points of their 11-point agenda, including funding the Rainy Day Fund, education, transportation, health care and a property tax bill.

He noted that in this Senate, "it only takes one Republican to pass a constitutional amendment" - perhaps referring to removing the supermajority requirement for passage of school levies.

"We are always looking for fiscal responsibility," he said. "We’ll stick with [Governor Locke’s] Priorities of Government," a system of zero-based budgeting where every request has to be proven a priority to be funded.

House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler's priorities are, "Education, education, education, then health care, jobs and business...We put almost $1 billion in the bank last year." Kessler noted she is in charge of making sure the session ends on time. Last year they ended one day early.

House GOP Floor Leader Buri said, "The minority has a very important role. We've seen what happens when we have unrestrained power in one party,."(Presumably, he's referring to Congress, not the Washington State Legislature).

"On 60 to 75% of what we do, we agree unanimously...we need to strike a balance between responsive but limited government that includes education, strengthening families and ensuring trust."

Commenting on the Governor's budget, Sen. Brown called it, "a good starting point," especially the rainy day fund. "Education is an expenditure, but also an investment that creates a better future for all of us."

Sen. Hewitt was less optimistic. "The Governor’s budget spreads $1.8 billion in new policy. Going forward, that creates a bow wave. Only 18% of it is on education. The state pension system is several billion in arrears that should be fully funded. Sen. Zarelli and I will be on the K-12 Education Committee to make sure that we have our top fiscal people on the policy committee."

Lynn Kessler reminded the audience, "We had to cut $5 billion over the previous four years when the economy was down. We’re just starting to make it up [to restore services]."

Asked what can reasonably be done in this session about math and science education, Sen. Hewitt said, "Washington Learns gave us a good blueprint. People getting a high school diploma should not need remedial math when the get to college. The need for remedial classes is one measure of success."

Sen. Brown, who is an economics professor, said, "We need to keep standards as a spotlight on improvements in the system."

"We’ve got to focus on math and science, to create new strategies, improve teacher qualifications and keep the kids interested."

Rep. Kessler: "Math scores point out that our system failed the kids. We need to pass a standardized math curriculum for the state. Then we can ask them to pass the WASL." "We also need to focus on early learning and use full-day kindergarten to help those 50% of kids who are not ready for 1st grade.

Asked about the prospects for gun control legislation, Sen. Brown said, "Gun control bills will come forward. I don’t know if we have the votes to pass them. I live next to Idaho. It needs to be done on a national level to be effective. Added Rep. Kessler, "I don’t think we have the votes. We have Democrats who are NRA members. Let’s put our concern on things we know we can pass."

Asked about the State Housing Trust Fund, which advocates are asking to be tripled, to $363 million as a down payment on the $1.7 billion in needed to end homelessness, Sen. Brown said, "We have been making increases every year. I support a significant increase. The Governor proposed an increase. As far as tripling it, we have other priorities in the capital budget."

Rep. Kessler observed that "Speaker Chopp is pushing for [an increase]. Housing the homeless is his heart and soul. People who get housing have gotten back on their feet. We support investments of this sort. When I was without power for several days, I imagined what it would be like to also be without walls and a roof. It really brought it home to me. We have to continue to work toward this goal."

Seattle Councilwoman Jean Godden asked what the state can do to help cities. Sen. Brown replied, "Pass a streamlined sales tax bill to keep from eroding state sales tax [on the internet] and a unified system for collecting sales tax [to match other states]. We can also work with local governments to fund mental health and criminal justice funding for drug courts."

Here's to a great 2007 session filled with meaningful accomplishments.

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