Sixty days may seem like a long time to some people, but ask local legislators and you'll get an entirely different answer. Wednesday morning, Rep. Dan Newhouse, Rep. Bruce Chandler and Sen. Jim Honeyford talked to members of the Sunnyside Daybreak Rotary Club about just how much they were able to accomplish during the last 60-day legislative session.
"I never realized in a short session, how much work [there] was," Honeyford said.
Newhouse said going into the last session, which is considered short compared to last year's budget session, there were several issues that had to be tackled, including writing the supplemental budget and putting together the state's transportation budget.
Chandler explained that the state's supplemental budget makes up approximately 25 percent of the two-year budget cycle. He said one of the good things that came with this year's supplemental budget was that it did not require a tax increase.
However, Chandler said the supplemental budget does have several drawbacks, including that it spends more money than will be coming in. He said this will make budgeting next year more difficult. Chandler explained that not only will budgeting next year be more difficult due to the amount of money being spent in the supplemental budget, but also due to several initiatives that will take effect next year, as well as some collective bargaining that has yet to be done.
Chandler said next year two initiatives dealing with education will come back into play, initiatives 728 and 732, one of which gives teachers across the state a cost of living increase. As for collective bargaining, Chandler said this will be the last duty of Gov. Locke's administration and it could possibly have a dramatic effect on next year's budget.
When the initiatives and collective bargaining are grouped together, Chandler said the two issues could mean as much as a 15 percent increase in next year's budget. "Which is pretty significant," Chandler said.
There were other issues state legislators also took on during the session, including several bills that came in response to the discovery of a dairy heifer infected with Mad Cow disease.
"I think we can feel good that the legislature could respond in such a timely matter," Newhouse said, noting that six pieces of legislation were passed dealing with the issue. He said the legislation dealt with everything from the transportation of downer cows to cattle identification.
An issue that has faced the legislature for some time also saw some action during the short session. Newhouse said legislation that would make it possible for school districts to pass levy and bond issues with a simply majority is something that has been on the table for years. This year half of that legislation made it through the House before it was killed in the Senate. That piece of legislation would have made it possible for school districts to pass levies with a simple majority, instead of the super majority that is currently needed.
A piece of education legislation that did pass through both the House and Senate and was recently signed by Gov. Gary Locke dealt with charter schools. Newhouse explained that the piece of legislation allows for the creation of 45 charter schools across the state over the next six years.
At a more local level, Honeyford said several things happened during the session that will help the local agriculture industry. He said more money was put into the budget to help the asparagus industry mechanize their warehouses, as well as to conduct research on the mechanization of the hop industry. Honeyford said the study would look at mechanizing the process of taking the vines off the trucks and bringing them into the warehouses for production.