Education must be our top priority | Editorial

Undoubtedly, the financial situation that the 2009 state Legislature deals with when in goes into session in January will be far more difficult than when those legislators announced their candidacies for office in spring and summer 2008.

With the state in a recession, Gov. Christine Gregoire is looking at cutting several billion dollars out of the state budget. The budget deficit could reach $6 billion, some reports stated last week.

Education must be a priority, not just for the Legislature but for all of us.

What can the Legislature do? The state Legislature is required by the state Constitution to fund basic education. The Legislature should do what several incoming legislators — among them, Senator-elect Kevin Ranker of San Juan Island — recommended: Redefine “basic education,” set funding aside for it first, and set the state’s budget with the rest.

What can residents do? First, understand the costs of those statewide initiatives we approve. The state’s financial woes began with the demise of the motor vehicle excise tax. That initiative replaced a tax that many saw as excessively high with a fee that is excessively low. You can’t kill $3 billion in revenue over four years and expect nothing to suffer.

Second, get priorities straight. For example, people are concerned about the loss of the Anacortes-Sidney ferry. But what’s more important? Quality education or a convenient way between B.C. and Washington? (There’s always the Tsawassen ferry or the Victoria Clipper, by the way.)

Third, understand that this crisis is real. Seven school districts in Washington state are being assisted by the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. They can’t pay their bills. The next step is receivership, and then consolidation.

This issue deserves our foremost attention.

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