Opinion

2008 Legislative session: Just 60 days to focus on fundamentals

Judy Clibborn and Fred Jarrett
Island Forum

Even numbered years in Washington state mean short, 60-day legislative sessions. Two months isn’t much time to deal with all of the issues facing our state, and to get our work done, we must remain focused to best represent Eastside communities.

With the risk of sounding like a scratched CD, we will keep our combined focuses centered on the issues that matter most to Mercer Island families: education, healthcare, and of course, transportation.

The educational experiences delivered by the state must be student-centered and outcome-based. It makes no sense to provide additional funding to programs that aren’t working. We have spent years working toward moving K-12 education to an outcome-based system. This year, we are supporting legislation to start this approach at university levels.

Supporting a pilot program at the University of Washington and Western Washington University to implement the outcome-based approach is a part of our 2008 focus (HB 2536 sponsored by Rep. Jarrett). Washington is recognized as a global economic force. Maintaining this status means crafting a higher education system focused on preparing students for success in the modern workforce.

Keeping a focus on health care means taking a close look at how health care is provided in the is state. We passed the children’s health bill (HB 1071 sponsored by Rep. Clibborn) last year to cover every child by 2010, and we can now focus on making health care coverage available to everyone in Washington.

We are also supporting legislation to create the Citizen’s Working Group on Health Care. As proposed, a nine-member group of business and labor leaders as well as health care experts will conduct meetings across the state to examine four separate proposals. These ideas range from allowing business to offer pared-down plans to providing a guaranteed benefit plan to all Washingtonians. The group will start their work in April and report back to the Legislature in time for the 2009 session.

Dealing with the transportation issues facing the Puget Sound region takes up most of our time in Olympia. We feel we can declare the session a success only if we can return to Mercer Island in March with a well thought-out, statewide tolling policy, and a prudent SR 520 financing plan. The state is in no way ready to start implementing any new tolls in 2008, including on facilities like SR 520 or I-90. We simply don’t understand the ramifications of tolling yet — especially their impact on I-90 — and until we do, we will stand in the way of any proposals to implement tolls.

Federal funding for roads and bridges is drying up, and the buying power of the state gas tax weakens every month. This is a reality that we must face, and preparing for future tolls is a major part of this reality. We are using the 2008 session to make sure any future tolls are applied fairly, if and when implemented. It is still early in the process, but we want to make it clear that we will only support a tolling policy that gives the legislature final say on how a state facility like SR 520 can be tolled.

Whether it is a long or short session, we understand that we are sent to Olympia to work on issues that matter most to Eastsiders. This is a responsibility that we take very seriously and we know that education, health care and transportation are issues that affect Eastside families every day. While we recognize that these may not be the flashiest, sound-bite friendly issues, we will keep working on what matters, and keep our focus.

Judy Clibborn and Fred Jarrett represent Mercer Island as well as parts of Bellevue and Renton as State Representatives of the 41st District. You may contact your representatives by visiting www.leg.wa.gov or calling the hotline (800) 562-6000.

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