Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Week four of the 2016 legislative session is wrapping up, and we're already halfway through the short, 60-day session. This year is a supplemental budget year, which is meant for minor adjustments to the two-year spending plan.
For an update on some of the most recent action in Olympia, watch my latest video update.
Here are some of the things I've been working on on your behalf:
Highway 169 safety: Recent fatalities and increased congestion caused by rapid growth in the Maple Valley area have led to calls for highway improvements on SR 169. I am working to secure funding for a safety study along the SR 169 corridor that will identify areas of needed safety improvements, especially in the stretch between Cedar Grove Road and Jones Road. Improving safety along the SR 169 corridor and mitigating traffic congestion are major issues we must continue to tackle in order to improve commute safety and ensure our economy remains productive.
I-405 toll lanes: I have received hundreds of phone calls and emails from commuters frustrated by the mess the new I-405 toll lanes have created. Before officials at the WSDOT implemented the tolls, they predicted use of the toll lanes would likely exceed expectations and commute times would be reduced. Unfortunately, this has not been the case. The new toll lanes have done little to nothing to mitigate congestion and, in fact, have clogged general purpose lanes. Toll rates have skyrocketed to as much as $10 during peak travel times – this happened three days in a row last week. Read more about the broken I-405 promises in this recent The Seattle Times article.
I and other lawmakers have been dealing with this issue as far back as five years ago. A bill in 2011 originally authorized WSDOT to create toll lanes on I-405 and the state Transportation Commission to set tolling rates. Republicans voted against the bill, and I offered an amendment that would have prevented WSDOT tolling anyone with two people or more in a vehicle in the toll lanes, but the amendment failed.
This session I am co-sponsoring legislation that would reduce the number of toll lanes to one, and restore HOV access to two-occupant vehicles instead of the current three. It would also open the highway to all drivers in the evenings. The Senate companion bill to this legislation was voted out of the Senate Transportation Committee this week and now awaits Senate floor consideration.
Charter schools: In September, the state Supreme Court ruled Washington's charter schools unconstitutional. At issue in that case was the way we currently fund charter schools, which is through the general fund. As a result, the future of other alternative schools and education programs also funded by the general fund, such as Running Start, the Youth Academy, and tribal compact schools, have been called into question.
There is a bipartisan bill I've co-sponsored that would restore some semblance of the charter school system our state had before by drawing funding from the Opportunity Pathways Account, which contains state lottery revenues not restricted to common schools.
We owe it to these students and families to save their schools. Parents deserve choices.
Even though we're halfway done with the 2016 session, I encourage you to continue to contact me with your ideas and feedback. Your involvement through every step of the legislative process is critical.
Thank you for allowing me to serve you!