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home : opinion : opinion June 28, 2016

8/6/2013 11:59:00 AM
A look at the 2013 legislative session

By Mark Schoesler
I'm satisfied with the overall outcome of the 2013 legislative session, even if it took longer than needed. It was certainly interesting to see how some members of the House majority party, who teamed with the governor to push for big tax hikes and increases in college tuition, seemed to have amnesia when talking about the virtues of the new budget. After all, it was our Senate coalition that showed how the Legislature could put more money into basic and higher education without raising taxes. What we did to boost support for our public-school system is a solid start toward responding to the state Supreme Court's McCleary decision from 2012; however, the more I think about it the more I believe our crowning achievement is: No tuition increases at state-run colleges and universities for the first time since 1986!
There were disappointments, though. I was reminded of one when Boeing recently announced it would be moving 375 engineering jobs to California. Why? Good question, considering a similar move (300 other Boeing jobs going out of state) was disclosed earlier in the year. Perhaps the airplane maker is tired of the labor-contract disputes that seem to occur regularly with its Puget Sound workforce - something legislators can't influence. Or maybe, just maybe, it has something to do with the fact the Legislature has yet to agree on reforms that would make our state a friendlier place to do business.
Another matter still being discussed has to do with our state's transportation system. The Legislature adopted a new transportation budget for 2013-15 - it allocates the money coming from existing taxes and fees (such as the state portion of the gas tax) toward a list of projects. However, we didn't agree on an additional package of transportation projects that, naturally, would have required additional funding - in the form of new bonds to be paid off by new taxes. Those who wanted this additional set of projects, which included a very controversial project to replace the Interstate 5 bridge between Vancouver and Portland, have tried their best to blame our Senate coalition for the lack of an agreement. I think it's more relevant that the House majority didn't approve the project list and tax hikes until we were within three days of adjourning - and even then the House failed to approve the bonds that would make the whole thing go.
As someone whose livelihood depends on getting goods to market, I appreciate the value of a well-designed and well-maintained transportation system. However, we need to have a discussion that goes beyond the approach taken by the House. It's just not enough to talk about raising taxes and which projects make the list; if lawmakers want taxpayers to get behind an additional transportation package, shouldn't we be looking at policy changes that can make transportation tax dollars go farther? Our coalition will be driving that discussion in the months before the 2014 legislative session.

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