Although attendance was much lower than last year, 41st district legislators faced a similar caliber of tough questions and citizen frustration at their Feb. 20 Town Hall meeting.
Sen. Steve Litzow, Rep. Judy Clibborn and Rep. Tana Senn, who all live on Mercer Island, held the meeting last Saturday to hear constituents’ concerns halfway through the Legislature’s 2016 60-day session.
Topics at the Town Hall included tolling on Interstate 405, fully funding basic education and the McCleary decision and determining the future of charter schools, which the state Supreme Court deemed unconstitutional.
Litzow, chair of the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education committee and supporter of charter schools, said that the Legislature is on track to have McCleary fully funded by 2018.
Washington’s Supreme Court is fining legislators $100,000 for each day they go without a solution. Both the Senate and the House plan to pass a bill outlining how they intend to fulfill their obligation to fund education and reduce reliance on local levies. Senn called it “a plan to make a plan,” but said she didn’t expect much more progress to be made this session.
An elementary student in Bellevue and a teacher in the Bellevue School District both asked what charter schools provide that public schools do not. Litzow answered that the goal is to close the opportunity gap across the state. Charter schools serve about 1,300 kids in Washington — many of whom are minority or low-income students.
“They’re not for everyone and they’re not by any means a fix for the whole system… but they seem to be working” he said.
Senn said that the House has passed “strong legislation” to address the opportunity gap for the past five or six years, but it hasn’t made it through the Senate.
Clibborn, chair of the House Transportation committee, said she has been disappointed with the Legislature’s lack of willingness to work across party lines, becoming visibly upset when discussing the firing of Lynn Peterson, the secretary of the Department of Transportation. Litzow said he stood by his vote to oust her, which he said was an attempt to bring accountability back to government.
Clibborn also discussed issues with I-405 and I-90. When I-90 was built, she said, the center lanes were designated for transit. She said she knows Mercer Islanders have concerns about access to the freeway, but the rest of the state does not, nor does it care about the issues with the I-405 high occupancy toll (HOT) lanes.
“I will apologize right up front for the fact that it was rolled out so poorly,” she said, noting that there was little thought given to “customer service or politics” and that the growth at the north end of the corridor was not accounted for as plans progressed.
A Senate bill, a House letter and a plan from Gov. Jay Inslee came to the same conclusions on how to fix the lanes: new auxiliary lanes and shoulders at chokepoints near State Routes 520 and 527, improved striping and signage, longer access points to merge into the toll lanes and a lift of tolls on evening off-peak hours, weekends and holidays.
The legislators were also asked about Energize Eastside, a Puget Sound Energy project in which Senn said the state doesn’t have much of a role, and if they would support a tax increase. Senn and Clibborn, both Democrats, said they would support a capital gains tax. Litzow, a Republican, said that there are several tax loopholes that could be closed, but that the state has committed to having a conversation about revenue next year.
In the Legislature, Democrats control the House and Republicans control the Senate.
Litzow supported a bill that would require a two-thirds vote in the Legislature for any tax increase, based on a Tim Eyman initiative that passed last year.
“We can get two thirds. It is much harder, but it is a much better outcome,” he said. “It forces everybody to get in and start compromising.”