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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

In Our View: New Year Offers Hope

Affordable housing, school funding among reachable goals in 2017

The Columbian
Published: January 1, 2017, 6:03am

Phew. Last year was one of those years we are glad to see in the rear-view mirror. Now, as the unpleasantness of 2016 fades from view, we’re looking ahead and hope to see these four things occur in 2017:

1. A solution to the school funding crisis. The state’s paramount duty — you can look it up in the state constitution — is to fully fund the public schools. But the Supreme Court has ruled this isn’t happening, and now it’s become Washington’s paramount problem. Today, schools are funded from state and local resources, including substantial school levies. To shift the burden as ordered by the court will require billions of additional dollars in state revenue. Gov. Jay Inslee’s proposed budget puts the cost at $3.9 billion for the next two years; a report commissioned by the Legislature and due this month may have some different figures.

Proposals to meet this paramount duty run the gamut from increasing taxes to rewriting the constitution so that fully funding schools is no longer a requirement. The best plan is yet to emerge. But after five years of studying and dithering, it’s time for a solution. We need a predictable tax and education structure so that we can plan for our families and our businesses.

2. Progress on affordable housing. We all know Clark County is a great place to live. Unfortunately, it’s also an expensive place to live. Since the end of the Great Recession, home prices and rents have soared. Though it has created a lot of equity for homeowners, it’s made it very difficult for working- class people and the poor. While the free market has much to do with housing prices, government can encourage development of more affordable housing with zoning and incentives. The passage of Vancouver’s Proposition 1 in November will provide some seed money. A plan should emerge this year.

3. Political groundwork on a new Interstate 5 bridge. President-elect Trump’s plan to immediately fund billions in new infrastructure seems like a long-shot chance for us, but progress needs to be made this year on a new bridge. The most likely, and possibly the most desirable scenario, is for the stakeholders in both Washington and Oregon to come together on broad outlines for a plan. Unlike the old Columbia River Crossing project, there also needs to be a lot of public outreach and communication. Years after that project failed, there’s still a lot of confusion about what was studied, including tunnels, new bridges in other locations, the need for freeway improvements in Portland and transit. The bridge is still a very contentious subject, but as anyone who crosses it regularly knows, the traffic problem is getting worse every month.

4. Waterfront construction. This goal seems to be almost a lock. Construction is already under way on the Grant Street Pier, which when completed in 2018 will be the signature project of the Vancouver Waterfront. The 90-foot long pier will jut into the Columbia River, providing pedestrians with incredible views of the water and the city. Construction should proceed on the waterfront park, and Gramor Development is expected to launch construction on several of its buildings. Projects already announced include two restaurants, Hotel Indigo, a retail block and an office building. Meanwhile the Port of Vancouver is likely to refine its plan to redevelop its share of the waterfront, which includes the old Red Lion Hotel at the Quay property, a small adjoining office building and an amphitheater.

All four of these goals are within reach, potentially making 2017 a much better year.