Governor Inslee and House and Senate leaders lay out their priorities for the 2014 legislative session.
Day Two of the legislative session in Olympia saw more fast action as the House moved HB 1043, which limits the setting of different tuition rates for high demand college programs, to the floor calendar for an impending vote. The House passed the bill last February with a 95-1 vote.
Governor. Inslee’s State of the State address, however, captured the main attention of lawmakers and Olympia observers on Tuesday. The Governor highlighted three major objectives for the legislative session:
• Raise the state minimum wage by as much as $ 2.50 up to $ 11.82 an hour.
• Spend an additional $200 million on education.
• Pass a Transportation spending package, which may include an additional gas tax increase of up to 11.5 cents a gallon.
How do these objectives stack up with what legislative leaders see as this session’s priorities? A Seattle City Club sponsored preview of the session last Friday, January 10th, featured a panel that included Sen. Rodney Tom, the Democratic head of the Majority Coalition Caucus in the Senate, which is made up of 24 Republicans and 2 Democrats; newly elected Democratic Senate Majority Leader Sen. Sharon Nelson; Democratic House Majority Leader Rep. Pat Sullivan; and Republican Minority Leader Rep. Dan Kristiansen. Austin Jenkins of Public Radio Northwest, and Essex Porter, KIRO 7’s Olympia correspondent, moderated the discussion.
Panel members tracked closely with the priorities laid out by the Governor, but they differed sharply on their implementation. On the minimum wage, Democrats think that there should be some increase, but House Republicans and the Majority Coalition would focus more on job creation to lift and strengthen the middle class, noting that an arbitrarily higher minimum wage could work against economic development, especially in the small business sector. Washington currently has the highest minimum wage in the country.
On education spending, panel members agreed that a plan for implementing the mandates of the McCleary court decision must be put in place. Both the House and Senate Democratic leaders want tax code changes to increase revenues, especially for increasing teacher salaries. House Republicans and the Senate Majority Coalition, on the other hand, want to prioritize existing revenues to fund education first and would also enact education reform and accountability measures.
The Transportation package that still needs to be passed for the 2013-2015 budget period also sparked some lively discussion. Rep. Sullivan pointed out that the House passed a package in the 2013 session, on which the Senate did not vote. Sen. Tom said his Majority Coalition wants to negotiate a plan among all four caucuses, and then bring one agreed-upon package to a vote. Rep. Kristiansen commented that a balance must be struck between transit-oriented, urban King County and its major construction projects, and the needs of rural areas that are automobile and road-dependent.
Overall, the City Club preview provided an informative and spirited, yet friendly discussion of how the 2014 legislative session will shape up. WashingtonVotes.Org News will provide further updates as the session moves forward.