As the 2013 session got under way Jan. 14, I realized the Legislature looks different this year. Out of 98 lawmakers in the state House of Representatives, 21 are new legislators. In the Senate, there are 11 new senators.
That’s not all that’s new this year. I have also received new committee assignments. Fortunately, they match many of the issues we face in the 26th District.
Probably most significant is that I have been assigned as the Republican leader on the House Community Development, Housing and Tribal Affairs Committee, which considers issues that relate to community development, veterans, parks and recreation, tourism, and government relationships between the state and Indian tribes.
It also considers bills related to accessibility and affordability of housing.
Housing affordability is a great concern for many of our citizens. During a recent committee meeting, we heard the average monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Pierce County is $929. In this economy, this price is unaffordable for many people.
More than 12 percent of Washington’s population lives in poverty with incomes of less than $15,000 a year. The average per capita income in Port Orchard is $16,382, it’s and considerably better in Gig Harbor at $28,318. Nevertheless, if your income falls in that lower range, and you’re paying more than $900 just for a basic apartment, it becomes a huge problem to pay for food, clothing and other essentials.
This is one of the challenges the committee faces as we seek to improve affordability and accessibility of housing.
We will also be working to keep our local and state parks open. Remember the outcry of local residents three years ago when Gov. Chris Gregoire initially put Kopachuck and Joemma Beach state parks on a closure list?
People love our parks. They are an enormous asset to our communities that attract countless tourism dollars for our local economies, and they provid all of us with great enjoyment and appreciation.
Unfortunately, the Discover Pass to fund state parks has not lived up to its expectations.
The fee structure alone is not enough to keep up with basic maintenance in our parks. We must find a more effective way of funding state parks so we can preserve them, not only for our families, but for future generations.
Another important part of our economy is the military.
The Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Naval Base Kitsap, Retsil Veterans’ Home and two armories are all in our area. We have many veterans who live here, both active and retired. I will be remain vigilant in this committee on issues that matter to our veterans.
I am also honored to serve on the House Health Care and Wellness Committee. Our challenge will be to navigate through the federal health care mandates and to keep the costs of Medicaid down as thousands of new people enter the system.
This has many moving targets, so stay tuned.
Finally, I have returned to the House Transportation Committee. Working and living on a peninsula, where the majority of access is via bridge or boat, transportation is a vital part of our economy and quality of life. Yet each year, as dollars get tighter, pressure builds to curtail critical ferry service and/or raise fares.
We don’t close highways because money is tight. The state shouldn’t do that to our marine highways either.
Neither should we hike tolls to astronomical levels to pay the financing on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. Motorists will only pay what they can afford.
There’s a certain threshold that can be reached before people quit crossing the bridge and toll collections slide. We’re rapidly nearing it.
We need to enact innovative new ways to fund our vital transportation infrastructure and services that avoid or limit tax increases. That’s why I have introduced legislation that would allow state and local governments to sell naming rights on bridges, highways and other publicly owned structures.
The revenue from the sale of naming rights could help to keep bridge tolls affordable and supplement funding of state ferries, as well as other services, without taking more dollars from your wallet.
As the legislative session progresses, I hope to hear from you. We have a new governor, a new bipartisan system of shared power in the Senate, and an opportunity for a fresh, new look at the long-standing challenges that face our state.
But the voice that matters most is yours. There’s much to be done in the coming weeks. I’ve rolled up my sleeves and I am hard at work!
State Rep. Jan Angel, R-Port Orchard, is serving her third term representing the 26th Legislative District. She can be contacted through www.houserepublicans.wa.gov/jan-angel, where you can sign up for her email updates for legislative news and information.