Nearly lost in the cacophony that accompanied the demise of the CRC is the fact that the recently adjourned state Legislature did have some noteworthy accomplishments.When the Senate declined to vote on a $10 billion transportation package, despite the fact that the House had passed such a bill, it apparently ended any hopes for the Columbia River Crossing and a new Interstate 5 bridge in the foreseeable future. That will hamper economic growth in Southwest Washington for years or decades or generations, and it will stand as a failure on the part of the 2013 Legislature.
Yet, there were some notable items in the $33.5 billion budget that was eventually passed:
• Legislators, under pressure of a mandate from the state Supreme Court, managed to add $1.03 billion of increased funding over the biennium for K-12 schools. State Superintendent Randy Dorn had suggested that $1.4 billion was necessary to comply with the court’s ruling in the McCleary case, but lawmakers made a sincere step in the right direction. The increase will aid districts in reducing class sizes for early elementary classes, expanding all-day kindergarten programs, and covering transportation costs.
• There’s a 12 percent increase in funding for higher education and a mandate for a one-year tuition freeze. After years of cannibalizing higher-education budgets and passing the costs along to students in the form of skyrocketing tuition, this was a welcome change. Education, be it at the K-12 level or the college level, is an investment that pays future dividends throughout the state.
• A handful of bills were passed that relate to Gov. Jay Inslee’s jobs package.
• The state adopted Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, opening health insurance up to some 250,000 residents.
• Cuts to mental-health assistance and other social services were reversed.
• Republicans, who held minority rule over the Senate with assistance from two crossover Democrats, adhered to their pledge to not raise taxes, including avoiding a series of loophole closures supported by the governor.
In addition, the Legislature passed a two-year, $3.6 billion capital budget that provides several benefits for Clark County.
Primary among those is assistance with the reconstruction of Crestline Elementary School. The school burned to the ground in February, after the deadline to request state assistance, but lawmakers passed a bill directing the state’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction to fast-track available money from its construction assistance program to rebuild Crestline.
The capital budget also includes money for the Clark County Skills Center; a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math building at Clark College; and a new Children’s Center building in Vancouver, in addition to other local projects.
In this part of the state, all of that was overshadowed by the failure of the CRC, sending back to the drawing board a process that already had spent $170 million. Still, there were some successes, attributes that are measured not merely by the spending of money but by the ways in which they will help Washingtonians.
Of course, after six months and two special sessions, legislators should have something to show for their efforts.
Now, about that bridge …