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State legislators check in
It has been a long haul in Olympia, and freshman Sen. Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island, thinks it could be the middle of June before the Legislature’s work is done.
Litzow told the crowd assembled at the Community Center at Mercer View, May 5, that his first 12 weeks in Olympia have been a real eye-opener.
“It’s not so much about Democrats and Republicans as it is about Eastern Washington v. King County,” he said. “Their eyes glaze over when we talk about 405, I-5 or the tunnel.”
Litzow said everyone’s getting cut, but there’s no new taxes. The proposed $31.9 billion budget for 2011-2013 falls short by almost $5 billion, Litzow said. He said the debate over the state-run workman’s compensation packages is one issue that could keep the legislators at work for weeks to come. The debate centers over giving injured workers the option of a lump-sum settlement over payments. Litzow and a number of his colleagues support the lump-sum payment, but House leaders are opposed.
Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, chair of the joint transportation committee, said that she saw a shift in tone in Olympia this year as well.
“It used to be a fight between Republicans and Democrats, House and Senate,” she said. Now, she said she is seeing more bipartisan work.
The transportation budget is a separate budget. Clibborn reported that her proposed budget passed 89-6. She said that over 400 projects worth $9 billion are in the works across the state. Rep. Marcie Maxwell, D-Renton, vice-chair of the education committee, said that her committee has made strides in implementing new policies in spite of the economy. She said in terms of basic education, they’ve held firm.
Maxwell said the cost of higher education is becoming a real concern, citing a growing number of middle income families that will need help getting their kids to college, begging the question, at what point is tuition too high?
Via their individual Web sites, the three lawmakers who represent Mercer Island and the 41st District add more details on their views concerning key issues and bills in process.
Litzow said in his blog last week that the agreement that must be reached on the budget will essentially come in the form of a settlement between the two budgets already adopted.
The primary purpose of the special session, which can last up to 30 days, is to reach agreement on new budgets to fund state government operations and public construction projects for 2011-13, Litzow explained.
“We had already agreed on a new transportation budget for the next two years, but some policy bills to go with that need to be adopted as well,” he said.
“By ‘reach agreement,’ I mean the Senate and House need to reconcile the differences between the budgets each adopted during the first part of April,” Litzow continued. “Examples of those differences range from pay for K-12 employees (the Senate budget calls for a cut, which is why I didn’t support it) to a money-saving change proposed for the state-run workers’ compensation system.”
Judy Clibborn’s office released an overview of what is happening in transportation. House transportation leaders have put together a plan to fund basic but overdue improvements for road maintenance and preservation, the state patrol, ferries and transit. The plan is paid for by updating several transportation fees, many of which haven’t changed in years. Realigning the fees would better reflect their actual administrative costs and fund about $129 million worth of projects per biennium. The bill is headed to a second reading in the special session.
“We’ve made huge progress on transportation over the last several years. Nearly 300 projects are complete with more on the way from the 2003 and 2005 gas-tax packages, plus dozens more from federal economic recovery funds. But a backlog still remains,” said Clibborn, sponsor of House Bill 2053. “This bill would fund very basic needs, such as a long-overdue ferry boat, road preservation funds for cities and counties, and equipment for the state patrol.”
The funding breaks out to $29 million for the state patrol, $10 million (debt service) for a 144-car ferry vessel, $25 million for ferry operations, $8 million for special-needs transit, $31 million for local government and freight road projects, and $26 million for state highway preservation and maintenance. Of the local government funding, $2 million would go toward the Safe Routes to Schools grant program. And $5 million of the state highway funding would be used for stormwater permit compliance.
Examples of the increased fees on licenses and vehicles include a $15 increase to $40 for driver’s license renewals (last updated in 1999), a $10 increase to $30 for a driver’s license exam (last updated in 2005), a $20 increase to $30 for a commercial driver’s license knowledge exam (last updated in 1989), and a $7.50 increase to $12.50 to apply for a certificate of ownership (vehicle title; last updated in 2002).
“Because these are flat fees that haven’t been adjusted in years, their purchasing power has eroded, yet the demands on our transportation system are greater than ever. For most people, the effect is a $3 per year increase for their driver’s license,” said Clibborn.
State Rep. Marcie Maxwell (D-Renton) is part of the group that sponsored HB 1710, a bill to fund the creation of a strategic plan to track the progress and encourage continuous improvement in career and technical education (CTE). In 2008, the state approved a new initiative to encourage CTE to enhance the rigor and relevance of career and technical education programs and to align and integrate instruction more closely with academic subjects, high demand fields, industry certification and postsecondary education.
An education bill that just passed, House Bill 1329, sponsored by Maxwell, will help put money back into music programs and music education, with “Music Matters” special license plates.
The plates will cost $40 with a $30 renewal fee, and will be issued in lieu of standard issue or personalized license plates.
A design has not been chosen for the plates yet. To submit an entry, visit http://musicplates.org/designcompetition/default.html.