The 2008 state legislature convenes for a short session on Monday and City Club hosted a preview this afternoon featuring, unsurprisingly, Democratic leadership promising to study things and Republicans saying spending is out of control.
State House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, started off the discussion of priorities by saying he wanted to work across the aisle and the state for one Washington, because ha! we out-vote the Grand Ol' Party anyway. Sen. Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, laughed with Chopp, turning to Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, to ask: "What are we gonna do this year Lisa?"
Rep. Doug Erickson, R-Ferndale, seemed to think it was less funny than his companions, noting without so much as a snicker: "I'm not sure why we always send our rural folk to talk to the people of Seattle." But one thing the entire panel could agree on was that the primary focus of the upcoming short session in Olympia should be transit, transit, transit. (Except you viaduct, no love for you.)
The 520 bridge in particular got a lot of attention. It seems to be pretty much accepted that a toll is coming, the only question is how much and for what kind of new bridge. The Republicans seem content with letting this take so much attention; Hewitt because tolls on the bridge are pretty much irrelevant to his constituents anyway ("Go after it, I think it's a great idea, just leave I-90 alone, that's the one I use," he says) and Erickson so the state can move on.
For Brown's supporters on the other side of the Cascade Curtain, there's interest in getting a plan for the 520 bridge drawn up and set so they can start pursuing cash for a North/South freeway corridor through Spokane. (A North/South freeway is kind of Spokane's viaduct. It's been a topic of discussion and inside joke for Spokanites since I was a kid there in the 90s.)
A couple of other items made the list. Brown expects the specifics on funding for state mandated paid family leave to be worked out and to the voters by November. They'll also be looking at housing issues, but didn't have anything too specific to say about foreclosures and low-income housing except that there's a problem.
There was also talk of re-evaluating WASL standards, which no one seems to think are working. Chopp says the math sections need to be reworked to deal with real world applications, arguing that there are far more UPS drivers than people creating new company business models. A woman at my table leaned in: "So is he saying we should dumb down the standards?" Hewitt on the other hand wants to get away from all this "fuzzy math" and back to memorizing multiplication tables. An abacus for every student perhaps?
The best part of the whole thing was the lightening round. The panelists were given cards labeled no, yes, and waffle. Here's the breakdown: The Republicans think taxes are too high; Dems don't. The Democrats expect to see the viaduct down by 2012; the Rs don't. The Dems have faith in the election process, Hewitt doesn't (he stood up on this one) and Erickson isn't sure. Chopp, after waiting to see all the other cards, is the only one who wants purchasing health insurance to be a requirement. Hewitt could maybe support legalizing suicide for the terminally ill but the rest are a big no. And they all think the Sonics are Oklahoma bound, which brought laughter and applause from the audience. Apparently policy wonks aren't basketball fans.