Legislature showed leadership during session

I am very pleased that we finished the 2005 Legislative Session on time -- one of the few times in our state's 116 years of existence. I've finally recovered from the late nights of work, and I'm especially happy to spend some quality time back home with my family and my dogs.

In my time as a state representative, I have come to learn that a legislator's greatest virtue can be cutting through all the partisanship and politics and showing real leadership.

I do believe we accomplished that this year. We ended years of gridlock and passed nation-leading reforms; we passed a transportation package that will begin the monumental task of averting disasters on our roadways; and we made some of the largest new investments in jobs and education this state has ever seen.

Our state has more than $750 million in unmet school construction needs. None of us want to see our kids in outdated classrooms or inadequate portables. This year's Capital Budget invests $600 million in schools, funding emergency repairs, modernization, and new construction. With this new money, we can get our students out of those portable classrooms and reduce overcrowding in our schools.

The Capital Budget also reduces the looming burden for our local school districts, emphasizing state support for our schools rather than increasing the burden on local property-tax payers.

I am especially pleased the Legislature enhanced support for our students and teachers, fully funding the voter-approved education initiatives to reduce class sizes and improve teacher pay. In addition, as students work to meet graduation requirements, we expanded support for resources like the Learning Assistance Program (LAP).

Given the growing demand for enrollment slots at our two-year and four-year colleges and universities, I'm pleased we also funded room for 7,900 more students. This is great news for businesses that depend on an educated workforce in our changing economy and for workers who need the family-wage jobs an education can provide.

The state's Operating Budget also expands health care for children in needy families, and provides a safety net for senior citizens, disabled people, and children who have been abused or neglected. I was honored to be the prime sponsor one of the most important pieces of legislation to pass this session; the governor signed my bill -- House Bill 1441 -- into law, which will help provide health coverage to all children by the year 2010.

Without health care coverage, the uninsured rely on expensive emergency room visits for medicines and treatments that could have cost much less if provided earlier. Ultimately, hospitals must pass the cost of the uninsured to its insured consumers, as well as to the agencies that provide reimbursements for the poor. It's just smart business to treat children early with preventive medicine, rather than at the most expensive point. This will save all of us money in the long run.

And speaking of saving money; every year that we put off fixing the looming threats to our safety and our economy -- namely, the crumbling Evergreen Floating Bridge and Alaskan Way Viaduct, as well as I-405 -- we risk not only a tragedy but the cost of emergency repairs. It is a hard reality but a reality nonetheless -- those structures have surpassed their lifespan and must be replaced. Through a 0.9-cent gas tax increase phased in over the next three years, along with some vehicle weight fees, we will be able to fund these road safety and improvement projects before it's too late.

Sometimes real leadership can be hard to come by; it requires hard decisions. Breaking the gridlock in order to do what's right, however, was our only choice. It was the right choice and I am proud of what we were able to accomplish this year.

Democrat Judy Clibborn represents the 41st District in the state Legislature.

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