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Sun., March 16, 2014

Editorial: Lawmakers missed opportunity on key issues

Supplemental sessions don’t generally produce blockbuster results, but Washington’s Legislature still missed some opportunities to move the state forward.

The failure to agree on a transportation package is the biggest disappointment, because lawmakers punted on this issue last year. They needed to go big or go home. They went home.

Some Republicans were willing to accept an 11.5 cent per gallon tax increase in exchange for reforms on how projects are financed, designed and overseen. The $8 billion in statewide projects included the near-completion of the North Spokane Corridor. It isn’t clear how many Republicans were supportive, because the GOP-controlled Senate Majority Coalition declined to put its plan to a vote.

Meanwhile, the House, which passed a plan last year, refused to budge on some of the reforms. A Senate proposal to dedicate sales tax revenue generated by transportation projects to transportation, and out of the general fund, was among the sticking points.

With hopes yet again dashed, it’s the duty of legislators to educate the public on consequences of inaction. Last year, legislators went on a transportation listening tour. This year, they need to embark on a teaching tour.

Beyond transportation, the Legislature failed to come through on issues that should’ve been a slam dunk. The Legislature put local control of $40 million in federal funds at risk because members failed to make student test scores a mandatory part of teacher evaluations. Democrats couldn’t slip the grip of the teachers union. One of the consequences is that fewer 4-year-olds will be attending preschools.

Lawmakers let the research and development tax credit lapse, which will hurt the state’s economic competitiveness. Plus, they didn’t produce a construction budget for the first time in 18 years.

Lawmakers also failed to adopt regulations for medical marijuana, leaving patients in limbo as the state implements a system for recreational pot. And they stiffed TVW, which was looking for $2.8 million to replace aging equipment. The channel that provides valuable coverage of legislative activity will have to scale back.

The session did produce some victories, especially in the higher education arena. For the second straight year, lawmakers provided enough funding to stave off tuition increases. Plus, bills were adopted that will help veterans and the children of illegal immigrants attend the state’s colleges and universities.

Legislators also came up with money to address the severe storage problems at the State Archives and Records Center.

Another $58 million was funneled to the K-12 system, but it might not be enough to meet the state Supreme Court’s incremental benchmark for funding basic education. Teachers were not granted raises.

Overall, legislative leaders can point to bipartisan support for a supplemental budget without raising taxes. Thankfully, they did not face a deficit for the first time in a long time.

But we do wish they would’ve been more ambitious.

The Spokesman-Review Editorial Board

Members of The Spokesman-Review editorial board help to determine The Spokesman-Review's position on issues of interest to the Inland Northwest. Board members are:

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