2014 Legislature: A discouraging performance

The News TribuneMarch 18, 2014 

Much important legislation was left undone at the state Capitol this past session.

ELAINE THOMPSON/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Conventional wisdom holds that it’s almost impossible for lawmakers to do anything important in an election year. The 2014 Legislature did not fail to disappoint.

Lawmakers arrived in Olympia in January with three big, urgent issues in front of them: public education, transportation and legal marijuana. They fumbled all three, letting festering problems fester.

The most appalling failure had to do with one of the Legislature’s core constitutional duties: providing ample funding for the state’s public schools.

On the most obvious level, lawmakers didn’t do much to satisfy the Washington Supreme Court’s demand for full funding by 2018. The court wants the Legislature to submit, by April 30, a detailed plan on how it plans to get there. Legislators didn’t do anything noticeable over the last two months to get ready for that deadline.

Far more disturbing, though, was their failure to require that state “student growth” tests be used as one — just one, out of potentially many — factor in evaluating the performance of teachers and principals. Aside from the fact that the requirement was simply good policy, its rejection placed roughly $40 million a year worth of education funding in extreme jeopardy.

That’s how much money the Obama administration is now likely to yank from classroom funding because of Washington’s refusal to link evaluations with state measures of class progress.

The blame, to be blunt, belongs with Democrats who were cowed by the Washington Education Association’s increasingly strident opposition to the linkage. In some cases, legislators who’d supported it switched positions after they got the memo from the WEA.

This does not bode well for the party’s hopes to persuade the public to part with additional billions for schools. Citizens may reasonably ask who is really going to call the shots on how that money would be spent — and why they must backfill $40 million a year that was forfeited to appease a pressure group.

The Legislature’s failure to pass a highway-and-transit package — which would have paid for infrastructure improvements across the state — was a straightforward case of election year jitters. The package would have paid for such critical projects as the completion of state Route 167 from Puyallup to the Port of Tacoma. Lawmakers must revisit it ASAP after the November vote is behind them.

More bizarre was the last-minute collapse of a bill that would have moved medical marijuana into the system of licensed cannabis stores now being approved by the state Liquor Control Board.

The U.S. Justice Department has probably just lost its patience with Washington’s flaccid attitude toward the “medical” dispensaries that are breaking both state and federal drug-trafficking laws.

No one wins here beyond the dispensary owners who will keep raking in loot from recreational users a little longer. But this will not end well for some of them: Stepped-up federal raids are almost certainly in the offing.

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