Legislature tackles tough agenda

January 4, 2011

By Staff

Tiger Mountain State Forest hikers could be required to spend some green to access the trails crisscrossing the mountain soon — if state legislators impose user fees to raise dollars for the cash-strapped state.

The proposed Explore Washington Pass is the latest idea to increase funds for state natural resources agencies. The pass is designed to address maintenance needs and repair damage to state forests and other trust lands — but the proposal is all but certain to raise ire among hikers and outdoor enthusiasts.

In the months ahead, Evergreen State residents could face increased fees on state lands, shrunken services from state agencies and larger class sizes in elementary school classrooms as cuts permeate all sectors.

Legislators meet Jan. 10 to consider the Explore Washington Pass and other penny-pinching proposals as the state faces a $4.6 billion budget gap. Gov. Chris Gregoire and state leaders cautioned residents to gird for deep cuts to education and state services in the months leading to the 105-day session.

State Sen. Steve Litzow, a freshman Republican from Mercer Island, summed up the task the Legislature faces: “Literally, everything is on the table.”

Legislators last month cut $1 million from the Issaquah School District through June. Gregoire has proposed slashing another $3.17 million from the district in the year ahead. Schools and other public agencies could endure deeper cuts as lawmakers meet to haggle about spending priorities.

State Rep. Jay Rodne said the crisis presents a chance for a frank discussion about the budget, and the North Bend Republican called for the Legislature to set priorities.

“We still have not had a discussion about priorities and where we should focus our efforts in preserving as much as possible and those lesser priorities where we can make those cuts now given the tough economy,” he said.

Glenn Anderson

More education cuts could occur

Students could return to schools — and larger classes — as early as fall.

The state has already suspended Initiative 728, a measure meant to reduce class sizes and provide professional development for teachers. In coming months, legislators must hash out a similar proposal to reduce the number of students in kindergarten-to-fourth-grade classrooms.

“I would make cuts in other areas of the budget to preserve those K-4 enhancements,” Rodne said. “I think class size matters the most in those early grades.”

Lawmakers also face tough decisions related to teacher performance and salaries.

State Rep. Glenn Anderson supports a proposal to maintain current teacher pay. But he opposes Gregoire’s proposal to cut $5,000 bonuses for National Board-certified teachers, because the Fall City Republican said the program is a magnet for quality teachers.

“That is a good program that encourages teachers to excel and be certified to the merit of their teaching skills and expertise,” he said. “I do think eliminating that would be foolish.”

Legislators could also discuss methods to gauge teacher performance as a step to improve schools.

Litzow, a former Procter & Gamble executive, praised teacher-performance pilot programs in the Mercer Island and Renton school districts.

“Coming out of Procter & Gamble, I’m a big fan of test marketing,” Litzow said. “There’s some really good test markets going on within our school districts right now.”

State Sen. Rodney Tom said such changes could better position the state to compete for federal Race to the Top dollars.

“We need to set ourselves up to make sure that we have an educational system, first and foremost, that delivers a great education to the kids of Washington, but also that we have a shot at these federal dollars,” the Bellevue Democrat said.

Legislators agreed to shore up funding for gifted education, starting in September 2011. In the meantime, gifted is not yet part of basic education.

The prospect of additional education cuts concerns parents of gifted students in the Issaquah district.

“Kids who are in the top 2 to 4 percent academically, they really do need more challenge and they’re in a unique category academically, where being in a regular classroom doesn’t meet their needs,” Issaquah Talented and Gifted Parent Association Co-President Cynthia Seidel said.

Consolidation could shrink government

Collecting fees to roam state forest lands could turn out to be only a small piece amid changes to natural resources agencies and programs.

Gregoire has called for the commission responsible for Lake Sammamish and Squak Mountain state parks, plus the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, to be merged into a single Department of Conservation and Recreation in order to cut costs.

The governor unveiled a plan last month to reduce the number of state agencies from 21 to nine. The consolidation could mean almost $30 million in savings and a reduction of 125 state positions in the 2011-13 budget.

The state is also considering a proposal to shut down Squak Mountain State Park near Issaquah in order to address the shortfall. The park could be shut down from July until 2013.

Virginia Painter, a Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission spokeswoman, said the shutdown could be necessary to reduce further cutbacks.

“We may be looking at a situation where we downsize the parks system operationally for a period of time,” she said.

Issaquah-area legislators said the changes to the natural resources agencies, plus other proposed consolidations, could benefit the state’s bottom line.

“How we do it needs to be done well,” Anderson said. “We can’t jam a bunch of bureaucrats together and see how it works. It needs to be done better.”

Tom last year introduced a bill to consolidate state agencies, but the measure faded in committee.

“Change is always difficult, and everybody will have an excuse why we shouldn’t change,” he said. “But the fact of the matter is, we need to do fewer things in Olympia and those things we do we need to do in a more efficient way.”

Meet the players

Issaquah is spread across the 5th, 4lst and 48th legislative districts. The local delegation includes a half-dozen representatives and three senators.

5th Legislative District

The district encompasses most of Issaquah, including downtown and the Issaquah Highlands. The district boundary splits the city from the neighboring 41st Legislative District at 12th Avenue Northwest. Beyond city limits, the district includes a large swath of unincorporated King County, as well as all of North Bend and Snoqualmie. Parts of Maple Valley and Sammamish also fall within the district.

Sen. Cheryl Pflug

  • R-Maple Valley
  • Appointed in 2003, elected in 2004 and re-elected in 2008

Rep. Glenn Anderson

  • R-Fall City
  • Elected in 2000 and last re-elected in 2010

Rep. Jay Rodne

  • R-North Bend
  • Appointed in 2004, elected in 2006 and last re-elected in 2010

41st Legislative District

In Issaquah, the district encompasses Talus and other communities in the southwest part of the city. The district boundary splits the city from the neighboring 5th District at 12th Avenue Northwest.

Beyond city limits, the district includes a large swath of unincorporated King County, as well as all of Newcastle and Mercer Island. Parts of Bellevue and Renton also fall within the district.

Sen. Steve Litzow

  • R-Mercer Island
  • Elected in 2010

Rep. Judy Clibborn

  • D-Mercer Island
  • Elected in 2002 and last re-elected in 2010

Rep. Marcie Maxwell

  • D-Renton
  • Elected in 2008 and re-elected in 2010

48th Legislative District

In Issaquah, the 48th District includes the South Cove and Greenwood Point neighborhoods. Interstate 90 separates the district from the neighboring 41st District. Lake Sammamish State Park divides the area from the 5th District. The district also encompasses parts of Bellevue, Kirkland and Redmond.

Sen. Rodney Tom

  • D-Bellevue
  • Elected in 2006 and re-elected in 2010

Rep. Deb Eddy

  • D-Kirkland
  • Elected in 2006 and last re-elected in 2010

Rep. Ross Hunter

  • D-Medina
  • Elected in 2002 and last re-elected in 2010

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Laura Geggel: 392-6434, ext. 241, or lgeggel@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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