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State lawmakers clock in for 'quick and furious' session

By ERICA HALL

Staff writer

With the biennial state budget and Boeing behind them, state lawmakers are feeling pretty confident about getting into and out of this year’s legislative session on time.

The 2004 session convened Monday and is expected to adjourn in 60 days. Rep. Mark Miloscia of Federal Way (D-30th District) expects business to be “quick and furious and over before you know it.”

Last year, Miloscia came close to winning passage of a performance audit bill, which called for the formation of a citizen accountability and progress board responsible for overseeing audits, grading state agencies on performance and levels of service, and developing a program of scoring.

The bill was first out of the House but failed to make it out of the Senate on the last day of the 2003 session. Lawmakers, exhausted from passing a state budget and incentives to coax Boeing into building the 7E7 airliners in Washington, decided to adjourn instead.

Miloscia plans to reintroduce the bill this year along with a quality-management bill, both of which “should improve government and eliminate a lot of waste,” he said.

That’s important because the 2005-06 budget planning session might be a little rough. “We’re already looking at at least a $1 billion deficit for 2006,” Milioscia said.

Miloscia also plans to introduce a campaign finance reform bill this year that incorporates McCain-Feingold legislation, recently upheld in U.S. Supreme Court, to regulate soft and hard-money contributions to legislative candidates. “Since the Supreme Court ruled, that’s a window of opportunity,” he said.

The way contributions are made now, “the integrity of the whole system is threatened,” he said. “The temptation for abuse is too strong, for both lobbyists and legislators.”

Miloscia said he wants to reform the campaign contribution system so everyone has the same influence in Olympia.

“(Billionaire businessman and Seattle Seahawks owner) Paul Allen should have the same influence as any voter in my district, but we all know that’s not true. That’s why he got a stadium,” Miloscia said.

Still, he doesn’t expect the reform push to get anywhere.

“The chance of this going through this year is almost nil, but it’ll get the discussion started,” he said.

Rep. Skip Priest of Federal Way (R-30th District) said he’s ready for work to begin, so long as another sex offender housing issue doesn’t come up like it did last year.

“If I have one New Year’s wish, it’s that I don’t have any surprises,” he said.

That said, he doesn’t anticipate a contentious session.

“The budget forecast is that we’ll be getting a little revenue instead of losing revenue,” he said.

Governor Gary Locke introduced supplemental budgets that will garner some debate, “but it won’t be the kind of debate we feared,” Priest said. “The session won’t be as intense from that standpoint.”

Priest plans to devote significant time and energy to higher education issues this year, particularly with regard to the task force created to implement contracts between the state and universities — legislation he sponsored last year and Locke later signed — and on state funding for higher education.

“We desperately need to get a handle on how we’re going to fund higher education,” Priest said.

Under the performance contract legislation, the state Higher Education Coordinating Board, members of which are appointed by the governor, work with the governor’s office, the state Office of Financial Management and university regents and presidents to develop a contract of standards the university would meet.

The contract would be presented to the Legislature for approval. The governor’s state budget, introduced to the Legislature every biennium, would include funding based on the contract.

Because the Legislature would have seen and approved the contract, funding presumably wouldn’t be a problem, Priest said, but the Legislature would have a chance to allocate funding based on the economy or budget deficits, for example.

Priest said universities are enthusiastic about the idea of creating the contracts. “They’re looking for a way to provide some structure during difficult budget times,” he said.

He added the contracts would “force a nitty-gritty discussion on the costs and expectations for education between universities and the state,” though eventually he’d like to “stop the talk and actually do something. Traditionally, we haven’t had this kind of discussion. It’s been more esoteric.”

In addition to higher education, Priest said he’ll be working on condominium construction reform — no one is building new condos in the Puget Sound area because problems in existing condos means no one can get insurance to build them, he said — as well as transportation, Friends of the Hylebos-related environmental issues and Multi-Service Center-related issues.

He’s optimistic lawmakers won’t face a prolonged session.

“I believe we’ll get out on time because we aren’t facing the same budget crisis we faced a year ago,” he said.

Sen. Tracey Eide of Federal Way (D-30th District) was unavailable for comment.

Staff writer Erica Hall: 925-5565, ehall@fedwaymirror.com

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