After a 176-day journey like this year’s legislative session, it takes a while to unpack all the bags. But lawmakers representing Thurston County brought home some gifts that will be appreciated in the next couple of years.
In the minds of Sen. Karen Fraser, Rep. Chris Reykdal and Rep. Sam Hunt, the biggest local gain — pay increases for state employees — already is being felt. Paychecks including an increase of at least 3 percent landed July 25, marking the first across-the-board increase since 2008.
About 21,900 people who hold state jobs in Thurston County are getting pay bumps, and hundreds more at the two state-funded colleges will too.
The state keeps no exact tally of pay by county, but based on the statewide median salary for a state worker ($51,216, according to the Office of Financial Management) we estimate the 3 percent increase is likely worth more than $30 million over a year in Thurston County.
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Reykdal said the money is welcome even if the net take-home pay may be just $35 to $50 each pay period for the average employee. That’s enough to have a positive impact on our economy.
All three Democratic lawmakers in South Sound’s 22nd Legislative District say the session’s biggest statewide achievements were in K-12 school investments, boosts in early childhood education, mental health, and higher education investments including tuition cuts.
Republican Reps. J.T. Wilcox of Yelm and Drew MacEwen of Union offered a similar assessment in a visit with our editorial board, and all five lawmakers say a transportation tax package also was a major accomplishment. The $16 billion transportation package includes a 7-cent increase in the gas tax that took effect Sunday. It includes efficiency reforms pushed by the GOP.
The highway funds allow replacement of the congested Interstate 5 interchange at Lacey’s Marvin Road and expansion of I-5 near Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
Wilcox and MacEwen have major highway projects in their districts, too: a Route 510 bypass around Yelm in the 2nd District and a Route 3 bypass of Belfair, Mason County, in the 35th District. Wilcox was part of the team negotiating the package.
The capital construction budget has local benefits: $69 million for a new building housing the State Patrol and other agencies on the Capitol Campus; $42 million in federal and state dollars for a new National Guard Readiness Center south of Tumwater, replacing the Olympia and Puyallup armories in 2019; $500,000 for solar panels and other upgrades for Thurston County Food Bank’s distribution center; $393,136 to help Hands On Children’s Museum begin its outdoor discovery center; $750,000 for the Black Hills Community Soccer Complex; $950,000 for seawall repairs under Olympia’s Percival Landing; $32 million for seminar, lab and lecture hall upgrades at The Evergreen State College; $6.25 million for the Department of Ecology and Port of Olympia for removal of contaminated sediments around the port peninsula starting in 2017; and $5 million for Deschutes Watershed Center including a hatchery.
All of the projects are promising. Many create jobs. We look forward to their construction and completion.