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Plateau lawmakers predict an unsettling session
By Dennis Box
If anyone questions what will be atop of the list for the 2005 state legislative session, here is an easy answer - $1.8 billion.
That is the financial shortfall political leaders will be wrestling with during the 105-day session - which could be extended into a special session, if necessary - to balance the state budget.
State lawmakers convene Monday in Olympia.
This is the two-year budget session, meaning the Legislature must write a budget for the next two years, which is corrected and massaged in next year's shorter, 60-day session.
The 31st District politicians, Sen. Pam Roach and Reps. Jan Shabro and Dan Roach, all Republicans, will be countering a Democratic House, Senate and probably governor - if Christine Gregoire's razor thin victory is not contested by Dino Rossi.
The 31st Legislative District includes Enumclaw, Buckley, Bonney Lake, Sumner, Edgewood and Auburn.
Sen. Roach, from Auburn, is not letting a little thing like being in the minority slow her down. Her to-do list of bills is as long as ever.
"I think we have the potential for a very difficult session," Roach said. "This is the first time since 1993 one party has been in control of all three legs of the stool. That's when we were given Clinton health care and they raised taxes across the board. I think this time it will be incumbent on the new governor to reach across the aisle. She did run on the platform of changing Olympia."
The senator is the ranking minority member of the Government Operations and Elections Committee, which will be looking into the 2004 election controversy.
Roach said she intends to introduce a bill requiring that all absentee ballots arrive at the auditor's offices by election day. She would make two exceptions - military ballots and ballots postmarked from out of state.
Another post-election issue Roach would like to take on is the appointment rather than election of the King County auditor.
"King County has the only appointed election officer in the state," Roach said. "We can't have the right person unless that person is independent of the executive."
Roach also hopes to see the voter registration roles cleaned up by a statewide re-registering effort and voter verification.
"We want to know people really live where they live," Roach said. "We can't have warehouses and vacant lots voting."
Another top issue for Roach is parents' right to monitor their children's phone conversation without consent from the child.
The senator plans to submit legislation allowing parents to eavesdrop. This comes after the state Supreme Court ruled in December a mother did not have the right to listen to her 14-year-old daughter's phone conversation.
Other committee appointments for Roach are Ways and Means and International Trade and Development. She is serving her fourth term in the Senate.
In the state House, Dan Roach from Bonney Lake, will be serving his third term and Jan Shabro from Lake Tapps, her second.
Both Republican representatives won re-election in November without being challenged.
Rep. Roach will be serving on three committees. He is the ranking minority member of the Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee and he will be serving on the House Capital Budget and House Finance Committees.
In the Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee Roach intends to submit identity theft legislation which will help people freeze their credit reports and stop access without permission.
He also intends to present estate tax legislation.
"This bill would bring us in line with the federal government's 10-year phase out of estate taxes," Roach said.
Roach stated he thought the Democratic caucus would introduce income tax legislation this year.
"They try to throw it out there every year," Roach said. "There will be a lot of attempts to raise taxes. I think to balance the budget we should do what Rossi did two years ago. Make cuts where you need to make cuts. Have priorities and make cuts accordingly. This is not the time to raise taxes."
Rep. Shabro noted Gov. Locke's proposed budget, which increase taxes on alcohol and soda pop, is the wrong approach
"These are short-term fixes," Shabro said. "This is not a good overall plan. This budget puts zero in the rainy day fund and that really bothers me. In a $24 billion budget we should have $1 to $2 billion in a rainy day fund."
Shabro pointed out the fund is important not only for emergencies, but it improves the state's credit rating, which saves the state percentage points when it borrows money.
As a member of the Transportation Committee, Shabro said state Route 410 will receive funds to improve choke points between Bonney Lake and Enumclaw.
"The intersection at 234th will be addressed and we will see some other improvements," Shabro said.
Legislation for a high occupancy toll or HOT lane pilot project will be introduced in the Transportation Committee, according to Shabro.
HOT legislation would allow vehicles containing only a driver to occupy lanes designated for high-occupancy vehicles, after paying a toll.
A card is attached to the drivers windshield and a transponder on the highway reads the card.
Shabro traveled to Minneapolis, Minn., recently to check out a HOT lane system in action.
"I'm excited about this," Shabro said. "It maximizes our infrastructure as it is now."
The pilot program would be set up on state Route 167 between Renton and Auburn.
Another bill Shabro is working on is a sales tax rebate for low-income people. It was introduced in the 2004 session, but shelved.
A family of four making less than $28,000 per year or a single person making less than $15,000 would receive about a $450 rebate.
Shabro is a member of two other committees, Education and State Government.
All three legislators have pledged to help Enumclaw gain $5 million from the capital budget fund for its wastewater treatment plant rebuild project.
"I think it is incumbent on the state to help pay for this project," Shabro said.
The 2005 regular legislative session is slated to wrap up April 24.
Dennis Box can be reached at email@example.com.