News

Lawmakers braced but smiling for 2003 session

By ERICA JAHN

Staff writer

There’s no doubt it’s going to be another tough year in Olympia, but local lawmakers are staying optimistic despite the potential for conflicts and gridlock between this year’s Republican-led Senate and Democratic House.

The 2003 Legislature, which convenes Monday, will contend with an almost $3 billion budget deficit, on-going transportation problems, a state economy that just won’t perk up and the nation’s worst unemployment rate that, while statistically discussed, represents struggling families and a growing increase in the need for social services.

Gov. Gary Locke introduced his two-year, $23 billion budget proposal last month, which includes more than $2 billion in cuts to social services and cost of living increases for teachers, among others. Many lawmakers, Locke included, don’t like how deep the cuts go.

“While there’s a lot I like about the budget I’m proposing, there’s a lot I don’t like,” he said in a Dec. 17 statement. “We are not able to move forward the way I wish we could. We simply don’t have the revenues. This vision is of how best to govern with the tax revenue that is available.”

Meanwhile, tax-limiting voter initiatives are winding through court and threatening to further limit what lawmakers have to spend.

The failure of Referendum 51, which would have provided $7.7 billion over 10 years to fund transportation projects statewide, 54 in central Puget Sound, cast a long shadow over King County cities.

Still, the 30th District’s senator and two representatives are keeping a brave face.

“I’m not going to lie. It’s going to be a very difficult session — probably the most difficult session I’ve ever been through,” Sen. Tracey Eide, D, Federal Way, said. “But I’m up for the challenge.”

Rep. Mark Miloscia, D, Federal Way, said this year’s Legislature will need pragmatists willing to compromise, not unbending idealists, to ensure passage of a budget on time.

“Finding $2.6 billion in cuts is tough, don’t underestimate the difficulty of that, but there are good people at the start,” he said. “I’m going in and we’ll get something.”

City officials met with the 30th District legislators Thursday morning to lay out the major issues for the city and to get feedback and a little insight into the leanings in Olympia so far.

Transitional housing for sex offenders

Lawmakers already have set the wheels in motion to find better sites for transitional housing for sex offenders who received treatment at the Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island and are ready to move back into society.

“The number one issue I’m facing is the siting of the sexual predator facility,” said the 30th District’s freshman Rep. Skip Priest, R, Federal Way. “Last year’s Legislature opened the door and unfortunately we’re going to have to work very hard to close it.”

The state announced in December that Peasley Canyon was one of three King County locations for a halfway house for sex predators. The other two sites are in Seatac and Carnation.

Miloscia said there already have been meetings to get the Department of Social and Health Services to find a better spot and bills are in the process of being drafted governing the location of the sites.

“Hopefully, we can all coalesce around something,” he said.

Eide said new legislation proposes to include home schools within the prohibition of locating a sex predator halfway house near public and private schools. A family living near the proposed Peasley Canyon site home schools their children.

Other pieces of legislation include looking into industrial areas for the facilities and using homing devices “so you know where they are at all times,” Eide said.

Transportation

Transportation, the perennial issue in Washington, will continue to be an uphill battle for local lawmakers.

While Federal Way’s own projects aren’t in imminent peril, state funding for future projects could fall to the cutting room floor.

City officials are hoping to preserve as much state funding for transportation as possible, particularly considering the recent failure of Referendum 51.

In addition, the city is asking for a greater voice in deciding which transportation projects get funding in the Regional Transportation Improvement Districts.

The Legislature last year established the Regional Transportation Improvement Districts and granted them taxing authority, but left most of the decision-making authority with counties. Cities have been vying ever since for a greater place at the table.

“I’m still fighting the battle of making sure cities get a voice,” Eide told city officials Thursday morning.

Annexation

City officials expect the Legislature to address last year’s state Supreme Court decision that abolished the petition form of annexation, saying it was unconstitutional because it favored property owners over voters.

Doug Levy, the city’s lobbyist, said there are several questions being contemplated in Olympia regarding the annexation ruling, but the Supreme Court has indicated it would reconsider its decision.

Still, Levy predicted there will be something of “a wrestling match” over the issue this year.

Taxing and revenue

The city will continue fighting to counter unfunded mandates and to ensure cities get the state revenue they need to make their budgets.

City staff also will oppose any legislation granting counties utility taxing authority that would overlap the tax already in place by cities. If counties are given any utility taxing authority, cities are asking lawmakers to limit it to unincorporated areas where citizens aren’t already paying a city utility tax.

Councilwoman Mary Gates told the legislators Thursday morning the city ultimately is most interested in partnering with the state to solve funding problems.

“You might notice in this we haven’t asked for a lot of money,” she said. “We knew better. We haven’t done that.”

Staff writer Erica Jahn can be reached at 925-5565 and ejahn@fedwaymirror.com

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