THE NEW YEAR has brought an encore to The Olympian: publication of our editorial page priorities for the coming year.
We started this editorial exercise a year ago. It seemed fair — in these times of perceived hidden agendas and mistrust of “the media” — that we lay out our editorial page agenda where all can see it. As we said last year, we invite readers to disagree.
In 2018 we are identifying five top concerns for Olympia, Lacey, Tumwater, Thurston County, the state, and nation:
HOMELESSNESS and HOUSING: Few issues cut across jurisdictions and challenge our state and South Sound communities with such urgency and immediacy like homelessness and the larger housing affordability crisis. The humanitarian crisis in the streets of Olympia and Thurston County must be faced up to.
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Olympia’s proposed sales tax increase on the February ballot – for housing units with supportive services – is one small step on a longer path already begun by groups such as SideWalk, Quixote Village, InterfaithWorks, the Salvation Army, Union Gospel Mission and many others.
The taxes would pay to house those who cannot afford market rents but have moved beyond emergency shelters. They often have disabilities and need services or help to stay under a roof.
Just as important is housing affordability for those of modest and middle-incomes. This "missing middle" needs to be central to our communities’ ongoing discussion as our county adds tens of thousands of new residents over the next 20 years.
We also need a daytime warming center for our homeless. InterfaithWorks, the interdenominational network, operated a day-warming center during the winter of 2016-17. But this fell to the wayside after Lacey, Tumwater and Thurston County balked at helping to pay or locate a facility this winter. South Sound can do better.
K-12 FUNDING and TAX REFORM: One of the most significant achievements by our state Legislature in recent years was increasing state funding of basic education in K-12 public schools. Finishing the job by fully funding basic education salaries out of state accounts this year must be a priority when lawmakers begin a 60-day session on Monday.
There are other K-12 needs to address such as paying for nurses, improving special education, and providing incentives to get the most skilled teachers into poorer, challenging schools.
As much as $1 billion more is needed on top of the impressive $7 billion already appropriated this year or planned through mid-2021.
Some state reserves can be used. If more is needed, a capital gains tax on windfalls from stock and bond sales is fair game. A carbon tax on fossil fuels is an option but needs to be structured so it boosts use of clean fuels but offsets impacts on certain fragile business sectors and on individuals least able to pay.
The unfortunate reality is our tax structure unfairly lands hardest on those of low and modest means. This needs to change with any tax reform.
SEXUAL HARASSMENT and INEQUALITY: The 2016 presidential election put fresh attention on sexual harassment, and there is a newly energized a movement to stop it. Few slices of American life seem immune from the #metoo movement.
Hollywood film mogul Harvey Weinstein was fired from his own company. Political figures resigned, respected television journalist Charlie Rose was kicked out of PBS, and several corporate leaders were ousted – all for sexual misconduct.
More than a half-dozen women came forward in Olympia late last year to publicly identity the bad acts of two former state legislators and more recently a sitting lawmaker.
Our Legislature needs to create a channel for staff, lobbyists and others to voice their concerns in a private or safe setting about unethical sexual behavior around the Capitol and to ensure that investigations and action follows when warranted. The mechanism could be expanded to also protect state government workers and vendors.
OPEN GOVERNMENT: Our Legislature is blocking the public from seeing leaders’ calendars, legislators’ emails, and other records that belong in the public domain. Open government advocates have filed suit and courts will decide the legality of lawmakers’ claim they are exempt from the Public Records Act.
A simpler solution is for lawmakers to rewrite the records law to explicitly include their own records. Legislators should comply with disclosure law in the same way state agencies and local governments comply.
We also want to see more openness by our local governments. As we noted during the last election, the Port of Olympia should work harder to make the financial losses incurred by its marine terminal more transparent and understandable to the public.
THE ENVIRONMENT: Protection of Puget Sound and salmon runs from degradation must continue — whether it’s defending fish and water quality against federal budget and policy threats, Seattle sewage spills, or Atlantic farmed salmon released accidentally into the Salish Sea.
To deliver results lawmakers and agencies must adopt policies and budgets that measurably halt the water and habitat degradation.
Whether it is for Puget Sound, our state’s rivers or Capitol Lake in Olympia, solutions need to be science-backed, results oriented, based in law and respectful of tribal treaty rights.