Wash. lawmakers talk changes in future funding

Legislators from Washington District 9 convened yesterday to discuss the January 2014 legislative session with their constituents as part of the Foley Institute’s Coffee and Politics series.

State representatives Susan Fagan and Joe Schmick were accompanied by Sen. Mark Schoesler during the event titled, “Lunch With Your Legislators.”

The bulk of the discussion was focused on balancing the state budget in the areas of university funding and social services.

Matt Carroll, a professor in the School of Environment, asked the legislators what higher education will look like for future generations.

“Direct tax funding has been reduced by half and made up by an increase in tuition, which a net result for the average student and family is paying a much larger percentage for tuition,” Carroll said. “Looking long term, what will higher education look like, and will we ultimately disenfranchise our children?”

Schoesler said the issue of tuition increases began more than 10 years ago.

“The increase percentage for tuition is a problem we got into over a decade, and it will simply take time to turn the ship around, one degree at a time,” Schoesler said.

The legislators said funding for social programs, in addition to higher education, is an ongoing tug-of-war.

Social service programs currently do not receive sufficient support for the people they serve, especially those with mental illnesses, Schmick said.

Fagan said legislators have proposed more social service programs in recent years.

Schoesler said as he becomes involved in the budget, he continues to discover programs he never knew about. He said to improve existing social services, some programs might need to be reevaluated.

“Not saying they’re bad, most are good, but if you prune a fruit tree you produce better fruit,” Schoesler said.

Fagan said to reduce the number of new programs, communities must take it upon themselves to provide support for those in need.

“We always should be compassionate for those less fortunate than ourselves,” she said.

A transportation package and marijuana regulations are among other items the legislators will discuss in the January legislative session.

Fagan said marijuana legalization was proposed to legislators as a potential cash cow, but as there are few experts on the subject, it is difficult to know how much money will actually be generated.

Schmick expressed concern regarding over-taxation that leads to criminal activity.

“Over-taxing it can cause an increase in the black market,” he said.

Schoesler and Fagan hope for brisk decision-making in the upcoming session.