Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The 2014 legislative session began this week. It is a short 60-day, supplemental budget session. We really have no excuse to go into a special session. Following the outstanding bipartisan budget work of 2013, any supplemental budget work will be relatively minor. But there are substantial policy issues that we have to consider. The Legislature will still consider legislation related to K-12 education, transportation infrastructure, health care, higher education and more.
The biggest news as we begin the session comes not from the Legislature, but from the state Supreme Court, across the parking lot from the capitol building. The state's highest court issued a recent directive on the McCleary decision saying the Legislature is not on target to fully fund basic education by the 2017-18 school year, despite the $1.6 billion in new money that we budgeted for education last session.
The court ordered lawmakers to submit a complete plan by the end of April to detail how the state will fully pay for basic education. The report from the court is being reviewed by the state attorney general.
While I am completely committed to our constitutional mandate to make education our “paramount duty,” I have to say that I'm deeply concerned about the Court's activist approach here. The Legislature takes its policy direction from you, the citizens, not from the judicial branch of government. The court has no business dictating the specifics of how we fund education, though fund education we must.
Beyond education, I continue to work on legislation that would improve our transportation infrastructure and system. A public hearing was held in the House Transportation Committee this week on House Bill 2071. This is legislation I sponsored because of my concern about the condition of the Meridian Street Puyallup River Bridge.
My bill would authorize expedited permitting and contracting for replacement work on Washington state's structurally-deficient bridges. An example of a structurally deficient bridge is the Meridian Street Puyallup River Bridge, which was built in 1925 and today has a structural sufficiency rating of two out of 100. This bridge is prioritized for replacement by the Washington State Department of Transportation, but work is not expected to be complete on a new bridge until late 2015. We need to fast-track the Puyallup River Bridge and other structurally-inefficient bridges before it's too late. By saving time and money on bridge replacement work, we can invest more in critical maintenance and operations on our roads and bridges.
On Monday, I have two bills being heard before the House Education Committee. Both bills, House Bill 2216 and House Bill 2217, improve partnerships between schools and communities. I will share more information on these bills next week.
In the meantime, I hope that you'll keep in touch with any ideas and suggestions as the session gets underway.
468 John L.O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
360-786-7968 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000