Newly elected legislators are taking office in both Washingtons but in very different legislatures.
Unlike the open-ended, three-day-a-week sessions of the U.S. Congress, Washington’s constitution requires state legislators to get our work done 105 days, period.
In Olympia, all seven days of every week count as workdays. This is healthy discipline. Our tight timeline weeds out weak bills; our fixed deadlines allow no time for the dead ends of political posturing. Result: almost all successful bills come out of the House with solid bipartisan votes.
Another difference: we don’t use red ink in Olympia.
Unlike the U.S. Congress, which builds one-year budgets with a lot of borrowed money, our constitution dictates that our state’s longer-view, two-year budgets must balance. Authorized expenditures must match forecast revenues.
To make double sure there is no political hocus pocus about what “balanced” means, revenue forecasts are delivered four times a year by an independent group of non-partisan specialists.
The most important difference: agenda.
After last week’s “fiscal cliff” theatrics, the U.S. Congress seems headed for nothing but more nasty political infighting. With our state’s citizens and businesses still trying to climb out of a deep recession, legislators who arrive in Olympia on Monday will face a huge agenda of serious issues.
Building on last year’s election and continuing discussions with many citizens, here are the big items at the top of my long must-do-now worklist. I value your thoughts:
We’re not done downsizing our state agencies. I welcome Governor-elect Jay Inslee’s promise to install a “lean” climate.
We need efficiency. But we also need fundamental downsizing and realignment.
If our state is to thrive in the new economic and demographic realities, we must equip ourselves with an agency design that reforms health and human services, especially, and streamlines responsibilities across the levels of local government.
We must fully fund essential services like public health and parks. User fees like the flawed “Discover Pass” for state parks should not mask the need for basic agency reform.
We are a highly successful high-tech state with an excellent education system. But we are not on track to keep that success going.
We used to lead the world in education. Not now. Strange as it seems, our Washington 25-year-olds are less educated than their parents and way less educated than their peers in all of our competitor countries.
How to turn this around, starting now?
The Supreme Court says add money. But it is more than money. What combination of educator innovations and taxpayer investments will deliver the results we all know we need?
Today’s world demands more than a high school diploma from every citizen with no one left behind. From preschool to college, our whole school system must be efficient and “fully functional” not just “fully funded.”
As Chair of the House Higher Ed Committee, I believe we should invest enough to keep our innovative community colleges and universities in tip-top shape, freeze college tuition, and make sure everyone can afford to climb the education ladder of “learn more, earn more.”
Ahead is a major debate about gas taxes and our road system. With your help, we may be able to cap our bridge tolls and fix our ferry system as part of that debate.
Our shellfish industry is one of the pillars of our state’s economy. All of us, industry and residents, need a healthy Puget Sound and healthy, livable, waterfront neighborhoods.
I’m working with our county partners and shoreline residents on further regulatory reform and a continuing research program to be sure the Sound, industry and neighbors will thrive long into the future.
Electioneering is over, and it’s time to get to work. There will be some intense debates; I’m committed to making those as substantive as possible.
I invite you to get personally involved. You can follow the action on TVW and online. (That’s another difference with the other Washington. We work in the open — if I see it, you see it. Every hearing, every document is available live.)
As always, I welcome your emails, phone calls and visits. I’ll send regular email updates and do several telephone town halls.
Ready, set, go.
State Rep. Larry Seaquist, D-Gig Harbor, chairs the House Higher Education committee. He also serves on the Appropriations and Education committees. The former captain of the Battleship USS Iowa, Larry and his wife, Carla, a writer and playwright, live in Gig Harbor.