Lawmakers from the greater-Olympia area are bringing their customary, liberal agenda to the Capitol as the Legislature begins work Monday in a 105-day regular session. Closing a $900 million budget gap and finding perhaps $1.3 billion more for K-12 public schools are the biggest challenges.
The core Thurston County delegation includes Sen. Karen Fraser of Thurston County as Senate Democratic Caucus chair, Democratic Rep. Sam Hunt of Olympia as chairman of the House State Government and Tribal Affairs Committee and Democratic Rep. Chris Reykdal of Tumwater, all of whom are in the 22nd district (representing Olympia, Lacey and Tumwater).
At their top of the 22nd-district agenda is protecting state employees and ending the 3 percent reductions in pay and hours worked that began in July 2011 for most of the states nearly 60,000 general-government workers. That temporary pay cut ends in June, and Gov. Chris Gregoire negotiated contracts with more than two dozen public employee unions that could allow 1 percent pay increases in July 2014 if state revenues reach a certain benchmark level.
"That not only affects state employees but our local economy," Fraser said of employee pay.
Still undecided is what kind of health-care benefits that public-sector workers, who now pay 15 percent of premiums, will receive. And there are rumblings of pension changes that the lawmakers are leery of.
Lawmakers from most of the outlying areas - such as Republican Rep. Gary Alexander of rural Thurston County - are fiscal conservatives and expected to fight majority Democrats in the House to avoid tax increases while closing budget gaps. The Democrats are taking another view, believing more money is needed to avoid deep cuts to other programs.
Hunt said there also is interest in retaining operating funds for South Puget Sound Community College and The Evergreen State College.
Fraser, Hunt and Reykdal say there are a few local capital projects the delegation also would fight for, including a $1 million grant sought by the Thurston County Food Bank to help it pay for a new building.
Another is $816,000 sought from the Building for the Arts program to assist repairs to the Washington Center for the Performing Arts in Olympia.
Yet another is making sure the community can use the local Armory once it is replaced as part of a modernization of Washington National Guard facilities, Fraser said.
Hunt listed the demolition of the old General Administration Building on the Capitol Campus, the Heritage Center project that would replace it; keeping funds to dredge Capitol Lake; funds to demolish the tall office building on the Olympia downtown isthmus as other capital-budget requests.
Among transportation priorities, Hunt said there is a need for interchanges or improvements along Interstate 5 at Joint Base Lewis McChord in Pierce County, the Sleater-Kinney off-ramp in Lacey, at Marvin Road above the Nisqually Valley and more work on a west Olympia interchange-justification along Route 101.
There also is desire for more Sound Transit services to Thurston County and a bike overpass project over Pacific Avenue.
Reykdal plans separately to introduce a bill that would create a pilot education program based on the GRuB, or Garden Raised Bounty, program in Olympia. The lawmaker said GRuB has a summer program pays a stipend to students who tend to crops at the community gardens, and this helps them to stay engaged in school and avoid dropping out. Hes heard interest from people in Grays Harbor County and elsewhere who would like to give it a go.
And Hunt plans to sponsor bills that prohibit the selling of liquor at automated check out in stores (he says buyers would have to be checked out by a clerk who can verify ID); a bill allowing beer and wine specialty stores to sell craft-distilled spirits (he says the idea is to let small start-up distilleries, which number 30 now in Washington, to get into the market); election bills allowing voter registration on Election Day, pre-registration for 16 and 17-year-olds triggered by driver-license issuance; and a state voting-rights act letting local governments create districts for election of their officials within a jurisdiction.