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The budget process explained: An interview with state Sen. Kevin Ranker
By COLLEEN SMITH ARMSTRONG
The Islands' Sounder
State Sen. Kevin Ranker has faced a tough first several months in office.
He just finished the state budget process, and said it was “one of the more difficult experiences” of his life.
“I was asked to make decisions I never wanted to make,” said Ranker, D-San Juan Island. “We had to cut $9 billion out of about 45 percent of the budget. Of the three budgets – transportation, capital, and general – we had to take most out of the general fund, because the other two have restrictions. Unfortunately, that is where most of the precious things like mental health, law and justice, and schools are, so there was no way not to cut into things that matter the most.”
Among those reductions is a repeal of the class-size initiative and cost-of-living allowance for teachers, which will be reinstated in two years.
“They have been suspended to help make ends meet,” Ranker said. “I met with hundreds of teachers over the last few months, and I asked them, ‘Do you want to lose COLA or lose jobs?’ Most said they would prefer to lose COLA.”
Locally, the San Juan Island School District will see a state funding reduction of 5.1 percent; Orcas, 4.3 percent; Lopez, 3.2 percent; and Shaw, 1.7 percent.
However, Ranker said there were some highlights of the legislative session, including an education reform bill that requires the state to entirely fund K-12 basic education by 2018. As outlined by the state Constitution, Washington is mandated to fund basic education, but the plan hasn’t been updated in 20 years and the definition has changed.
Ranker says the new plan will include funding for subjects like computer science and special education P.E., which are currently covered by alternate sources of funding like levies or grants.
“There is a concern at the state level that if we redefine basic education, then we have to pay for it,” Ranker said. “But it’s not OK for us to dodge this question because of that. There are several areas, like health, mental health, and education, that are in a continual spiral of underfunding. We need to have a serious conversation in Washington state about what our priorities are and what we can really spend.”
Ranker said he is a realist and understands that funding for the education reform bill will come over a period of time.
“I went into this session with education as a top priority in our communities,” he said. “And I think we did a good job. I’m really proud of what we were able to do. The state is committed to make substantial changes with education.”
The budget also allocated funding specifically for San Juan County.
Moran State Park is receiving close to $1 million to replace four sewer lift stations. More than $130,000 is included in the state's proposed capital budget for development of up to 15 trails in the 112-acre Cattle Point Natural Resource Conservation Area on San Juan Island. And Skagit Valley College will receive funding, some of which will go the San Juan campus.
The Orcas and Lopez ferry terminals are receiving around $200,000 each, the San Juan terminal has been allocated about $450,000, and Shaw will get $3.2 million. The Anacortes terminal will see $1 million in upgrades.
Ranker, who also serves on the Senate Transportation Committee, said the Senate bumped forward the construction dates of five new 144-car ferries. The first vessel will be built in 2013, with one constructed every two years after that.
WSF is receiving funds for several of its current boats, Chelan, Elwha, Kaleetan, and Yakima, for improvements and preservation work. Ferry fares are being limited to a 2.5 percent increase, and the Sidney, B.C. run is staying put.
“We came out with a budget that did not raise taxes, but it hurts,” Ranker said. “And it will continue to hurt. We need to lead by example as a state, and that starts with state government.”
The budget is nearly finalized; a special session will be held in May. For more information on the current numbers, visit www.senatedemocrats.wa.gov/senators/ranker/
— Agriculture & Rural Economic Development (vice chairman)
— Natural Resources, Ocean & Recreation (vice chairman)
— Environment, Water & Energy
402 Legislative Building
PO Box 40440
Olympia, WA 98504-0440