Dear Friends and Neighbors,
It's been a busy first month of the 2017 legislative session. On Jan. 9, lawmakers traveled to Olympia to kick off this year's 105-day session. It's an honor to be back serving the communities of the 5th District in the state House of Representatives.
Resolving McCleary tops everyone's priority list this year. “McCleary” refers to the 2012 decision in which the state Supreme Court ruled the state was failing to meet its constitutional obligation to amply fund K-12 education. We've made great strides in funding K-12 education — reduced K-3 class sizes, full-day kindergarten, teacher raises — and 48 percent of the state operating budget is now dedicated to basic education. If you've been following McCleary in the news, the narrative has shifted to levy reform. Local districts' overreliance on local property tax levies was cited as an unconstitutional funding source for education the Legislature must address.
In January, the House voted to extend the “levy cliff,” which refers to a decrease in the rate of the amount of dollars school districts can collect from their levy base. Currently, most school districts can collect at a rate of 28 percent, but it was projected to decrease to 24 percent by next January. School districts are planning the next school year's budget this year. This would leave school districts in the lurch and would lead to teacher layoffs in some cases. Bottom line: our students and school districts deserve certainty as they plan ahead for upcoming school years.
I'm pleased to see the Senate Republican and House Democrat plans for K-12 education funding include an extension of the levy cliff. This gives schools the peace of mind they need to succeed. With plans released from both majority parties, all four causes can now come together to work on and refine solutions for a comprehensive investment plan.
In my last update, I informed you I would be pushing to advance the current timeline of the I-90 – SR 18 interchange project. Currently, the funding to begin design on the project won't be until 2023. But with recent collisions that have led to injuries and highway shutdowns, it's clear we can't wait until 2023 for a resolution. I've been meeting with a broad-based coalition of city officials, ports, chambers of commerce, the Washington Trucking Association, railroad representatives and more to work on moving up the timeline. I plan on working to secure additional funding in this year's transportation budget so we can get the design work on this project complete.
Last year, I was able to get funding for a safety study on SR 169 in order to identify locations along the highway in need of improvement. The report was completed this interim, and can be found here. Of note was the Cedar Grove interchange, which was identified as a section of the highway that could be considered for more substantial improvements. Currently, the Washington State Department of Transportation is looking at two options: either a roundabout or a protected, right-hand turn lane. We'll likely have more information regarding the costs and projected timelines of those alternatives in a couple of weeks. Other improvements by way of warning signs at noted choke points, additional striping and other enhancements were also recommended as a result of the study.
It's my honor to welcome my new seatmate, Paul Graves, to the state Legislature. I'm looking forward to working alongside him to make our district and state an even better place to live, work and raise a family. Learn more about Paul by visiting his website, here.
As session continues, I encourage you reach out to my office with your questions, concerns and ideas for improving state government. My direct contact information is below.
Thank you for the privilege of serving you!