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Legislators see cuts in state services coming
With 11 state legislators answering questions on topics from business taxes to education, members of 10 east King County chambers of commerce recently got at least a small glimpse of the upcoming legislative session in Olympia.
The main message coming from legislators was no surprise: cuts to services are coming. State Rep. Larry Springer, D-45th District, put the state's budget fix in stark terms.
According to Springer, Olympia could close the entire state prison system and lay off every state worker and still not close the existing gap between revenues and expenses.
To solve the problems, several legislators talked about increasing efficiencies, while others said lawmakers need to determine the state's core services and set funding priorities — as well as eliminating programing — accordingly.
Held Jan. 6 in the Bellevue Hyatt Regency, the legislative briefing is an annual event of the East King County Chambers of Commerce Legislative Coalition. The Bellevue Chamber of Commerce are members of the group.
For the question-and-answer session, the chamber group concentrated on four major topics decided on by coalition members. In addition to taxes and education, those topics included economic development and transportation. Gov. Chris Gregoire had just introduced her proposal Jan. 5 to revamp Washington's education system, creating a new department of education that would be responsible for classrooms from kindergarten through college.
"I think it's something we'll definitely give some consideration to," said State Rep. Marcie Maxwell, D-48th District, who serves on at least two key house education committees. Maxwell added that there are numerous agencies and governmental entities dealing with education in Washington.
"There may be some very good reasons to pull the pieces together," she said.
Also a member of some key education committees, Rep. Glenn Anderson, R-5th District, said creation of an umbrella education department might increase accountability within the system. He added, however, he wouldn't support legislation that amounted to a "rearranging of the deck chairs."
Gregoire's plan would put the state's superintendent of public instruction under the direction of a new education secretary appointed by the governor. The superintendent is currently an independent, elected position.
In the area of economic development, tax increment financing (TIF) could become a hot topic. Essentially, TIF programs would allow the state to use projected future increases in income to pay for development or public works projects now. TIF's are fairly common elsewhere, but have been judged as violating Washington's constitution.
A primary sponsor of new TIF authorizing legislation, Springer said there may be a way around constitutional questions. He also talked about how TIF funding could create jobs, a contention that might lead past opponents to support the issue given current economic conditions.
Tom Corrigan is a staff writer for the Bothell Reporter. He can be contacted at 425-483-3732, ext. 5052.