The legislature can do better

The 2008 legislative session ended on March 13. With the many challenges facing our state in transportation, education and health care, we were hopeful to make progress on these and other issues this year.

By Reps. Glenn Anderson and Jay Rodne

For Reporter Newspapers

The 2008 legislative session ended on March 13. With the many challenges facing our state in transportation, education and health care, we were hopeful to make progress on these and other issues this year.

While some minor good things were accomplished, the big issues were left unaddressed. Indeed, they were deliberately avoided. The theme of the session was reflected by House Democrat Majority Leader Rep. Lynn Kessler who recently said, “If you take too many bold steps, you’ll no longer be in the majority.”

Democrats hold a two-to-one supermajority in the state House and Senate, not to mention the governor’s office. We think this requires the majority party to embrace the tough decisions necessary to govern – not just to seek re-election for the sake of being in power.

As members of the minority party, we believe it is our responsibility to support good ideas and draw attention to actions that play fast and loose with the facts and taxpayer dollars.

Our deepest concern is the runaway state spending that has been defined by special interest group demands, not tough decisions that solve problems and provide value to taxpayers. Since 2004, state spending has increased by $8.7 billion, which is a 33 percent increase — the largest in state history. The budget passed this session added another $291 million in new spending. The rate of growth of state spending (more than 16 percent) is now more than double the rate of growth of state revenue (more than 7 percent).

Nonpartisan staff estimates show a budget deficit of $2.4 billion next year. This figure does not include $800 million mandated by a recent court decision to enhance school employee salaries, or $450 million of new unfunded low-income social service programs that will require funding next year.

All this adds up to a $3.75 billion deficit on day one of the 2009 legislative session. This imbalance can only be resolved by a massive 10 percent general tax increase, draconian spending cuts, or a combination of both.

Addressing the transportation challenges facing us was also contentious, especially the replacement of the State Route 520 bridge. Due to rapid cost inflation of construction materials since the 9.5-cent gas tax increase in 2005, the state transportation budget now faces an almost $2 billion deficit.

Due to this funding shortfall, Gov. Christine Gregoire proposed and the majority party supported a revised six-lane bridge design that would provide essentially no new capacity. This design would be partially funded by pre-construction tolling on the existing 520 bridge.

Tolling will be necessary to maintain our transportation infrastructure and we support a reasonable tolling framework. However, we must have assurances that the funds raised by tolls will be used to expand capacity and improve the roadways. Unfortunately, our attempts to put safeguards in place to ensure tolling revenues would not be diverted to government programs unrelated to transportation were rejected by the majority.

The bright spot this session was the progress made to improve the state’s math instruction for our children. The fact is less than 50 percent of high school seniors in Washington have an 8th grade proficiency in math. Due to this meltdown in math instruction, the governor and Legislature suspended the math proficiency test as a requirement for high school graduation until 2013. We are the only state in the nation that has had to take such an action. We are optimistic about getting math instruction back on track because we know it’s essential to our children’s future opportunities.

We have a lot of optimism in our state, but we believe that with bold leadership and a vision for the future the Legislature can do better to address the defining issues our day.

Reps. Glenn Anderson (R-Fall City) and Jay Rodne (R-North Bend) represent the 5th Legislative District. Anderson serves on the Appropriations, K-12 Policy and Higher Education committees. Rodne serves on the Transportation, Judiciary and Financial Services & Consumer Protection committees.