A 5th District update from Rep. Jay Rodne

Guest Columnist

The 2004 legislative session is past the midway point and I thought this would be a good opportunity to update you on issues impacting our district.

Let me start by saying it’s an honor to represent the 5th District. As you may know, this is my first legislative session. I was appointed in January to replace Rep. Cheryl Pflug, who was appointed to former Sen. Dino Rossi’s seat after he resigned to run for governor.

This legislative session has been an interesting one. My days are filled with committee hearings, caucus meetings, floor action and talking to constituents. My favorite part of the day is hearing from constituents and listening to their ideas for our district.

We live in a great area, but we can do more to improve it. I believe we must give students and teachers more tools to improve our schools, prioritize resources to ease traffic congestion, make health care more accessible and affordable and create and preserve jobs.

I was fortunate to be appointed to House committees that allow me to be directly involved with many of these priorities – the House Transportation, Trade and Economic Development and Health Care committees.

Education. One of the last bills the House passed last week is one I feel to be extremely important. It would create a task force of legislators and educators who will study the way we fund K-12 education. There is a lot of debate over education funding, including requiring a simple majority for approving school levies, levy equalization and other issues. Before we make major decisions about K-12 education funding, I believe it’s important to let this task force complete its work and give their recommendations full consideration.

The House also passed a bill that would clearly define what is expected of students for graduation and the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL). I think this would go a long way in helping students succeed, and encouraging parents to be involved in the process.

The Legislature is also considering bills addressing teacher strikes. We cannot let the education of our children – the paramount duty of the state – be impacted by labor disputes.

Transportation. Traffic congestion is something most of us deal with on a daily basis. Some of you have contacted me with your concerns about our roadways and I share these thoughts. We all know State Route 202 needs to be widened. Improvements are also needed to State Route 169, the Interstate 90/Highway 18 interchange, State Route 900 and other roadways in our district.

Comprehensive solutions are needed to ease traffic congestion. This will make our roadways safer in the process. Solutions begin with securing the necessary funding at the state level. I’m doing all I can in this regard and hope to have some good news to report soon.

Health care. Health care needs to be accessible and affordable. Unfortunately, there are too many government rules telling health insurers what they must put in their plans. These mandates mean increased costs for health insurance providers, and these costs are then passed on to consumers.

The House passed a bill that would be a good start to providing the flexibility needed to help small employers provide affordable health insurance to their employees. It may need minor improvements, but I’m confident this issue will be addressed effectively this year.

Creating and preserving jobs. Our state still has one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation. Job-providers – both small and large – need relief. Landing the Boeing 7E7 was a step in the right direction, but we must do more to help Washington be viewed as employer-friendly.

The Legislature passed a bill renewing tax incentives for high-tech research and development industries and the governor has already signed it. There is no doubt these tax incentives will create new jobs and assist in our state’s economic recovery. We must continue to do more, though.

Supplemental budget. A concern down the home stretch of this legislative session is our supplemental budget. The supplemental budget is a mid-course adjustment to our state’s budget, which is written every two years. We need to adhere to the sound fiscal principles that went into the drafting of the budget last session.

It’s important we make a concerted effort to look for savings in our existing budget so that we can help offset any future expenditures. We must end this year with a budget that can be carried into the next two years without resorting to tax increases or reductions in core state services.

In closing, I’d like to thank all of you who have taken time to write, call or e-mail expressing your support or views on issues. Your feedback is important to me. Thanks for allowing me to serve you.