Lawmakers will face a little of the old and a lot of the new when the Legislature convenes on Monday in Olympia. Our unscientific advice is to see the negative in the old, then the positive in the new.Yet another dark financial forest awaits intrepid legislators who must overcome a projected billion or so in revenue shortfall, plus almost that much in new costs to meet a state Supreme Court demand to fully fund education. But the new aspects of governing the state are significant and will be interesting to watch, especially here in Clark County:
Start with redistricting. This is the first session since legislative district boundaries were redrawn, with five districts in Clark County. However, only three (17th, 18th and 49th) are fully contained in the county; two touch mere slivers of the county. The 20th includes Woodland and parts of north county, and the 14th includes a relatively remote section in east county.
More than half of the legislators in those three main districts are taking on new roles, either as rookies or by moving to higher office. As Stevie Mathieu reports today in a Columbian story, former state representative Ann Rivers enters her first full term as state senator in the 18th, as does newcomer Annette Cleveland in the 49th. New state reps include Monica Stonier, Liz Pike and Brandon Vick while veteran state senator Don Benton assumes increased power in that chamber, and Jim Moeller, Sharon Wylie and Paul Harris return in the House.
But do not assume this relative lack of legislative experience signals less clout for the Southwest Washington delegation. Benton, as deputy leader of the Senate, is No. 2 in that chamber’s chain of command. Accentuating that role is the fact that — with the defection of two Democrats — Republicans control the Senate with what they’re calling a coalition majority. Benton will have a big role in whether that strategy succeeds, and we kind of like the attitude expressed recently by state Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle: “What the citizens are interested in is governing. The bipartisan issue is an inside game.”
In the House, local clout will be wielded by Moeller, the speaker pro tempore who will preside over debates. Moeller also will serve on the Rules Committee, which makes crucial decisions about which bills advance from committees.
Together, Benton and Moeller are expected to serve on their respective transportation committees. We hope the Legislature finds about $450 million to accelerate progress on the Columbia River Crossing, but Benton says he won’t support such a commitment as long as light rail is in the CRC. Whether that’s a majority opinion remains to be seen.
Other new aspects of state government include a new governor: Jay Inslee, a Democrat who campaigned on the belief that tax increases will not be necessary. Other Democrats say it’s impossible to meet the demands of the revenue shortfall, plus the education mandate, without more revenue.
Ultimately, though, this new Legislature must confront that old need: bolstering public education. The state Supreme Court and the state constitution say the lawmakers must make progress toward that goal. We’ll believe it when see it. A good start would be to take local school districts out from under the yoke of having to pass levies and bond issues to meet commitments the state should be paying for.
One possible over-under bet: How long will the opening day’s bipartisan congeniality last? Days? Hours? We’re not strong supporters of gambling, and besides, even the bravest bookie wouldn’t touch that one.