Education funding again on front burner

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WALLA WALLA — Working with a new governor and finding a way to fully fund education will be among the top issues facing local legislators when they return to Olympia next week, said Rep. Terry Nealey, R-Dayton.

Nealey and his fellow 16th District lawmakers, Rep. Maureen Walsh and Sen. Mike Hewitt, will be back in the Capitol on Monday to start a 105-day session. In an interview Monday, Nealey outlined the challenges he and his fellow Republicans will face when they take their seats this year.

One of the biggest problems will be finding a way to meet the demands of the state Supreme Court’s ruling that mandates the Legislature fully fund education.

“That’s going to be our biggest challenge,” Nealey said.

Republican legislators have said the public doesn’t want higher taxes and Gov.-elect Jay Inslee has said he won’t raise taxes, relying instead on fiscal management to produce the needed funds. But Nealey noted exactly how that will be accomplished is still unknown.

The court’s mandate also raises questions about the separation of powers issue as well as exactly what fully funding basic education means, Nealey said. Yet another problem will be overcoming a $1 billion shortfall already projected in the state budget.

But dealing with shortfalls will be nothing new, said Nealey, who will start his third term in the state House.

“I haven’t been over there yet when we’ve had a surplus,” he quipped.

When this year’s session begins, Nealey will serve on four committees. In December, he was named as the ranking Republican on the House Finance Committee, which considers bills relating to state revenues. He will also serve on the rules, judiciary and environment committees.

Two hot-button issues likely to be before the Judiciary Committee will be the voter-affirmed legalization of same-sex marriages and proposals for gun control spurred by recent mass shootings in Newton, Conn., and Aurora, Colo.

On the environmental front, there will be issues related to Initiative 937, which requires the state steadily increase the percentage of electricity produced by renewable sources, such as wind energy — but not hydropower, which is not considered renewable.

The problem with the initiative is how to deal with years when there is an ample supply of hydropower, Nealey said.

“I think we’re going to have a surplus with no place to sell it,” he said. “We need to let the transmission system get caught up … all I’m saying is let’s slow the process down or align (production and transmission) so they mesh.”

Another major issue legislators will deal with is the legalization of marijuana, which came into being with the passage of Initiative 502 in November.

Among the questions are what the federal government is going to do if the state moves ahead on setting up rules for growing, processing, sale and taxation of pot, Nealey said. Another major problem is pressure potentially put on law enforcement officers.

Yet one more issue will be how legalization will affect employment because traces of marijuana use stay in people’s systems long after they’ve stopped using it. As a result, people applying for a job may lose out because they’ll test positive for pot use even though they quit days or weeks before ago.

Andy Porter can be reached at andyporter@wwub.com or 526-8318.

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