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Dear Friends and Neighbors,
As we approach the beginning of September and a new school year, I wanted to take a few minutes to provide an update from Olympia.
Cross-river solutions discussed in Woodland
On Tuesday, Aug. 18, I had the privilege of being the guest speaker at the Woodland Chamber of Commerce luncheon. I took the opportunity to discuss options and solutions for reducing traffic congestion in the southwest Washington I-5 corridor, and particularly, the bottleneck of the I-5 Interstate bridges over the Columbia River between Vancouver and Portland.
One of those options, which I've discussed in previous email updates, is what we are calling the I-5 Practical Design Flyover. The proposed flyover, which could be built for less than $1.5 billion, would launch from the area of the Mill-Plain/I-5 interchange and head straight south, bypassing main intersections at Marine Drive and Hayden Island. The existing I-5 bridge structures and freeway would remain. Upon completion of the new structure, the old spans would convert to a local access frontage road and serve as exits and on-ramps from the new bridge structure for access to downtown Vancouver and the Hayden Island/Jantzen Beach areas.
With shipping companies recently pulling out of the Port of Portland, many of those container cars are now being transported by truck over the I-5 bridge. Congestion is only going to worsen. Now is the time to take a serious look at bridge options. I invite you to learn more about this proposal from my I-5 Practical Design Flyover website issue page. Go to it here.
I was also a guest today on Freedom Daily with Jeff Rhodes, a podcast produced by the Freedom Foundation, in which I discussed the flyover option. You can listen to that podcast here.
Historic funding levels for education
In my last email update in July, I provided a post-session review of the newly-passed state operating budget. It bears repeating that the Legislature adopted a 2015-17 operating budget that provides historic levels of funding for K-12 education. I was proud to support this bipartisan plan because it:
- Invests an additional $2.9 billion in K-12 education, a 19 percent increase;
- Dedicates 48 percent of the state budget for K-12 education — the largest amount in more than 30 years;
- Provides cost-of-living increases for teachers, plus a one-time salary raise; and
- Makes major investments in early learning, expands all-day kindergarten, and reduces class sizes in grades K-3, where research shows it does the most good.
A look at the “K-12 Biennial Budget Increases” chart I've included here clearly shows the significant funding gains made in the past four years for K-12 education. These increases have been among efforts the Legislature made to respond to the state Supreme Court's McCleary decision.
State Supreme Court attempts to legislate from bench in McCleary case
Despite these historic new investments and K-12 funding increases, the court said it wasn't enough. On Aug. 13, justices ordered contempt sanctions against the state in the amount of $100,000 a day until the Legislature delivers an education funding plan that satisfies the court and shows how the state will fully fund education by 2018. The fines are to be put into a special account for basic education.
Many of us were surprised by the sanctions and latest court ruling. Some, especially union advocates, will argue that we don't care about K-12 education and that the Legislature has continued to fail in its constitutional duty “to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders.” However, the facts simply do not support this argument.
Here are some things to consider:
- It's important to remember how our state arrived at this position. For 30 years or so, K-12 education funding was neglected as non-education spending was prioritized. With the leadership of Republicans, this trend has reversed the last three years.
- Since 2012, the state has increased biennial operating funding for K-12 education by nearly $5 billion – from $13.4 billion to $18.2 billion. This amounts to an increase of nearly $2,500 per pupil per year. The 2015 Legislature also appropriated $811 million for capital construction supporting K-12 education.
- The court has exceeded its authority and set a troubling precedent that some have said sets up the state for a “constitutional crisis.” The court has also complicated compliance with its 2012 McCleary order by retaining jurisdiction and changing expectations.
- By directing appropriations under McCleary and setting up “a segregated account for the benefit of basic education until the contempt order is lifted,” the court is trying to do the job of the Legislature, which is outside of its constitutional powers. Only the Legislature has the constitutional vested power to appropriate public monies (Article VIII, section 4), and the power of taxation (Article VII, section 1).
- The Legislature has followed through on all McCleary funding commitments. Our state remains on track for full compliance of the 2012 McCleary order by the original 2018 deadline. Unfortunately, the court has added new deadlines and expanded the definition of basic education to include elements such as school construction.
There have been four separate rulings on McCleary since Jan. 5, 2012. How can the Legislature comply with the high court's requirements when the court keeps moving the goal post?
I am also concerned the court is acting more out of political reasons than its duty of interpreting and upholding the law. Why else would it issue a press release to the media in advance of notifying legislators and the governor of its new directive and sanctions?
At this point, legislative leaders have identified three options to address the court's concerns: levy reform, new tax increases or cuts — the most viable being levy reform.
Although the justices have asked the governor to call a special session to respond, legislative leaders know the options before us will take time to develop, implement and phase in. Therefore, the governor is not calling a special session at this time. Instead, a bipartisan task force has been appointed to work on solutions. Whether a plan is adopted later this year or in the 2016 legislative session that begins in January, it will have a negligible impact on school district budgets.
Thank you for allowing me to explain these issues and where I stand on them. I welcome your comments on these or other legislative matters. Please contact my office below or through my email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Protecting life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness!"
469 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7812 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000