Legislative New Year begins today: What are legislators, pundits goals for 2016 session?

The legislative new year has been greeted with modest expectations by most observers. We previously suggested that lawmakers face a short, manageable agenda in the short election-year session. The Seattle Times recently editorialized on the 4 things the Legislature must tackle now – and the 1 thing to sideline. (We agree with the Times that charter schools must be on the must-do list. So does the Spokesman-Review.)

While there’s no shortage of wish-list items (see here for one example), passing legislation requires garnering majority support. And the Legislature remains closely divided. Joe Copeland, writing in Crosscut, has an interesting analysis of this state’s political dynamic. He points out the state’s history of voting Democratic in presidential and gubernatorial elections, then adds this perspective.

In Olympia, Washington looks more purple than blue, and depending where you focus your gaze, the red tinge may be pretty clear. Republicans have such a big role in the government of the Evergreen State that not much will happen without them. They have almost half the seats in the House of Representatives, where the Democrats’ margin is down to 50-48.

 Later in the piece, which we recommend be read in its entirety, he suggests what that means for the 2016 session:

In the 2016 legislative session, both Democrats and Republicans are likely to put most of their attention on fairly practical matters. They will add money to catch up with the costs of last year’s extensive wildfires. They will continue work on meeting the demands of the state Supreme Court (and the public) for improving public schools, adding to the steady but could-have-been-faster progress.

In other words, they’ll do manageable, pragmatic stuff. That suggests the answer to the editorial question in the Seattle Times: “On state education funding, what’s taking so long?” There’s no agreement on how much is required or how to find the additional money once a number is identified. That’s why the legislation introduced this year in response to the state Supreme Court’s McCleary mandate amounts to a plan to plan. The AP story quotes key legislators.

“It is taking more time than I would like,” acknowledged House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington. “The fact is there is more work that needs to be done.”


Rep. Chad Magendanz, R-Issaquah, said the group has been meeting for more than a year to try to figure that out, but so far it hasn’t agreed on how much money it needs to find.

…Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, said she and other Democrats don’t even agree with the Republicans on whether they have a number in mind.

Adding some degree of urgency to the funding deliberations is the “levy cliff.” 

Districts are approaching what officials call a “levy cliff,” an upcoming reduction in how much money school districts can collect through local property tax levies.

Because of that, district officials say they urgently need the Legislature to either fix the unconstitutional way the state funds education — a big job that legislative leaders have said they are unlikely to tackle this year — or else delay the planned reduction in local levy authority that threatens to cut millions from school district budgets in the 2017-18 school year.

The News Tribune, milking the NFL for metaphors (read the whole thing), says lawmakers are punting the tough decisions to 2017. The Olympian editorial board acknowledges slow, incremental progress in education funding.

Even with modest expectations, lawmakers will confront many challenges in the coming 60 days. We remain optimistic that what must be done will be done. And what’s left undone will make for an interesting 2016 campaign season.