Dear Friends and Neighbors,
One week remains before the end of the current fiscal cycle on June 30. I share your frustration that an agreement has yet to be reached on a new 2017-19 state operating budget to take effect July 1. Negotiators on issues related to the budget, including those on the Education Funding Task Force, have been meeting regularly in Olympia. Although I am not on these negotiation teams, I have been in touch with my colleagues who are working on these issues and they have assured me they are very close.
I also recognize growing concerns as we get nearer to the end of the month. However, I remain optimistic, given that there has never been a government shutdown in Washington's 128-year history.
Earlier this week, Republican Sen. John Braun, who is the Senate's main budget writer, said lawmakers' sole focus is on getting the budget done before June 30. In his words, “We've thought about what could happen and we're not going to allow the government to shut down.”
Late this morning, I received notification that House Republicans have been called back to Olympia beginning Monday, hopefully to resolve the final issues and vote on a budget before Friday. The House is scheduled for floor action on Tuesday, beginning at 10 a.m.
Transportation maintenance tour eye opening
Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, (at right in photo above) and I spent much of the day Monday touring various maintenance needs on state routes in Clark County with Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) Regional Maintenance Supervisor Bob Kofsta (center in photo). Rep. Orcutt is the ranking Republican on the House Transportation Committee.
I learned several things from this tour:
- Traffic and worker safety
To control traffic safety, we have much larger crews on projects while workers are sweeping, paving, repairing guardrails and clearing brush that encroaches onto pavement and impedes sign visibility. Bob told us drivers were more courteous to highway workers 20 years ago than today. Years ago, WSDOT could send out a two-man crew to sweep highways. However, today there must be additional crew to manage traffic while sweepers are out. My message to drivers: Please give our highway workers a break and slow down when you see them maintaining our roads and highways. They have a dangerous job. Please don't make it worse.
- More maintenance needs than funding
WSDOT highway crews are highly skilled and cross-trained to be able to do a variety of jobs, including brush clearing, replacing burned out highway lights, paving, sweeping, snow removal, jersey barrier and guardrail repair and replacement. However, funding of additional road maintenance workers has not kept up with increases in new lane miles that must be preserved and maintained. Bob showed us a glimpse of the backlog of brush clearing and guardrail repair.
- Homeless camps
We visited several homeless camps in the Vancouver area along the I-5 corridor within WSDOT right-of-way. His workers must go into these areas and remove possessions, garbage, dirty drug needles and human waste left by illegal squatters. You can imagine this task creates a host of other new hazards for WSDOT workers.
- Slide repair
We also toured the slide that occurred on SR 503 between Chelatchie and Woodland. An entire rock face came tumbling down onto the roadway. It will cost more than $1 million for a permanent fix. For now, some work was done to allow one lane of traffic to access the area.
- Managing storm water
Maintaining storm-water detention ponds for all state highways is another huge job for WSDOT crews. Most people may not realize this, but every state highway in Washington must have a storm-water facility to manage all the rain that exits our roadways. As new highways are built, new and costly storm-water facilities must also be built to handle additional lanes of impervious surfaces. One such facility on SR 503 in Orchards near the Goodwill store must be completely rebuilt because it is failing. That is estimated to cost around $2 million.
In my June 6 email update, I discussed co-sponsoring a bill that would eventually privatize The Evergreen State College in Olympia. This was in response to protests against a white professor who objected to white people being asked to leave the campus for a “Day of Absence” event. Since then, I have also signed on as a co-sponsor to a bill authored by Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, that would protect free speech on college and university campuses in Washington state. You can read more about that bill here.
Last week, I talked with Nikita Vladimirov, a reporter from Campus Reform, about the tensions at Evergreen and our response. He filed this report.
I work for you throughout the year
Thank you for your calls, letters and emails. I wish to encourage you to continue communicating with me anytime you have questions, concerns or comments about legislation and state government. It is my highest privilege to work for you and serve the 18th Legislative District. My contact information is below.
"Protecting life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness!"