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Eastside Legislators talk with Chamber members about upcoming Session.
BY TOM CORRIGAN
With 11 state legislators answering questions on topics from business taxes to education, members of 10 east King County chambers of commerce recently got at least a small glimpse of the upcoming legislative session in Olympia.
The group of legislators included 41st District Reps. Marcie Maxwell, D-Renton and new freshman representative, Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island.
The main message coming from legislators was no surprise: cuts to services are coming. State Rep. Larry Springer, D-Kirkland, put the state's budget fix in stark terms.
According to Springer, Olympia could close the entire state prison system and lay off every state worker and still not close the existing gap between revenues and expenses.
To solve the problems, several legislators talked about increasing efficiencies, while others said lawmakers need to determine the state's core services and set funding priorities — as well as eliminating programing — accordingly.
Held Jan. 6 in the Bellevue Hyatt Regency, the legislative briefing is an annual event of the East King County Chambers of Commerce Legislative Coalition. The group encompasses numerous city chambers, including the Greater Bothell Chamber of Commerce.
A commercial real estate agent for NIA Puget Sound Properties, Dick Paylor is a Bothell chamber delegate to the east King County group. Paylor said he was impressed that the Republicans and Democrats on the recent legislative panel seemed more willing to work with each other than in previous years.
"In that sense, I'm more hopeful than I've been in the past," he added.
Paylor theorized the sense of cooperation he felt may have come about because, in terms of the state budget, legislators don't have a lot of maneuvering room.
For the question-and-answer session, the chamber group concentrated on four major topics decided on by coalition members. In addition to taxes and education, those topics included economic development and transportation. Gov. Christine Gregoire had just introduced her proposal Jan. 5 to revamp Washington's education system, creating a new department of education that would be responsible for classrooms from kindergarten through college.
"I think it's something we'll definitely give some consideration to," said State Rep. Maxwell, who serves on at least two key house education committees. Maxwell added that there are numerous agencies and governmental entities dealing with education in Washington.
"There may be some very good reasons to pull the pieces together," she said.
Also a member of some key education committees, Rep. Glenn Anderson, R-Fall City, said creation of an umbrella education department might increase accountability within the system. He added, however, he wouldn't support legislation that amounted to a "rearranging of the deck chairs."
Both the Bothell Chamber and the Northshore School District were well-represented at the Eastside chamber meeting. Northshore Superintendent Larry Francois said it was too early to tell where Gregoire's proposal might lead. But he said any plan that would increase efficiencies in the system was worth discussing.
Gregoire's plan would put the state's superintendent of public instruction under the direction of a new education secretary appointed by the governor. The superintendent is currently an independent, elected position. Francois said there might be reasons to keep it that way.
"I think that's something that needs to be looked at very carefully," he added.
In the area of economic development, tax increment financing (TIF) could become a hot topic. Essentially, TIF programs would allow the state to use projected future increases in income to pay for development or public works projects now. TIF's are fairly common elsewhere, but have been judged as violating Washington's constitution. A primary sponsor of new TIF authorizing legislation, Springer said there may be a way around constitutional questions. He also talked about how TIF funding could create jobs, a contention that might lead past opponents to support the issue given current economic conditions.
"There is a window of opportunity here that maybe wasn't there before," Springer said.
That is good news to Paylor, who said to his knowledge Washington is one of only two states that doesn't use TIF as a funding source. He pointed to Bothell's Crossroads project, which will see the realignment of the city's two state routes, as the perfect example of infrastructure work that could benefit from TIF funding.
"It could be a real a difference-maker," Paylor said.