Washington State 39th District Rep. and House Minority Leader Dan Kristiansen presented to Monroe City Council last week, providing members of the council and Mayor Geoffrey Thomas a snapshot of this year’s legislative session in Olympia.
Major topics on the legislative agenda this year included the budget, public safety, transportation and education. He shared that this year was quite remarkable when it came to both the House and the Senate working cohesively together.
“We did pass what I would say was probably one of the more sustainable budgets in a long time,” said Kristiansen. “The collaboration was something that was kind of groundbreaking for many of us.”
He stated that, during his 12-year tenure in the legislature, he could not recall such high levels of cooperation, not only between Democrats and Republicans, but also between the Senate and the House.
In discussing transportation issues, Kristiansen expressed some frustration over the fact that U.S. 2 has not been added to the state’s transportation priorities list. He referenced the district’s notoriously dangerous roadways including U.S. 2 and SR 522 and mentioned the recent double-fatality accident which occurred on SR 522. Sadly, over the weekend, the accident became a triple-fatality as an infant girl named Bella succumbed to her injuries.
“It’s personal to all of us,” said Kristiansen. “If you’ve been in this valley for any period of time you know that this is a big issue out here.”
He stated that it’s a huge challenge for him when he deals with other legislators and staff within the Governor’s office. Safety is always at the forefront of transportation concerns, yet they will not add U.S. 2 to the transportation priorities list.
“That’s very difficult for me,” said Kristiansen.
He explained that, when it comes to transportation, there are some specific social economic challenges which remain prevalent in the 39th district and elsewhere that need to be discussed.
“As soon as you start getting out of the metropolitan areas, you have a population of people that are what we would call underemployed,” said Kristiansen.
He explained that, after 2008, a significant portion of the population lost their jobs.
“For almost a year, the 39th district here had more people collecting unemployment checks than any other district in the state,” said Kristiansen. “Most people don’t know that.”
As a result of that, Kristiansen explained that many folks exhausted their unemployment benefits, at which point it became necessary for some of them to change careers; often obtaining employment for a fraction of the pay that they were making before. This, he stated, is what is meant by underemployment. Kristiansen explained that while, yes, unemployment rates have dropped from a percentage rate in the double digits to around 7.0 percent; this underemployed group of people is making up a large portion of the difference.
He stated that the underemployed population in rural Snohomish and Skagit Counties are averaging approximately two-thirds of what they were making prior to 2008.
”We’ve got a very fragile recovery, at best, that’s going on in Washington state,” said Kristiansen.
He stated that, when it comes to transportation problems, it’s not as if the people of the 39th district don’t understand that there’s a problem. They do understand, said Kristiansen, and they want to work towards a solution, but financial matters as they are right now are challenging enough for them.
“They’re saying, ‘I want this, but right now I just can’t afford this,’” said Kristiansen.
He noted that the pattern has become notable within districts where polls have shown that legislative measures meant to incorporate new gas taxes would end up unsuccessful. The slow economic recovery has also become a hindrance to passing school funding, with levies failing more often than not. He stated that it isn’t that people don’t want their schools improved; they simply can’t afford to pay for it.
On a brighter note, Kristiansen shared that, when it comes to alternative sources of funding for transportation improvements, the 39th district has actually faired extremely well.
“The 39th district, over the course of the last four years now, has received more than twice as much money from the Transportation Improvement Board compared to every other district in the state of Washington,” said Kristiansen.
Contributing largely to this is the fact that officials from the city of Sultan spend significant amounts of time traveling to Olympia and lobbying for grant funding from several sources, including the TIB.
Councilmembers were given the opportunity to ask Kristiansen questions and seek clarification on any topic that he presented. Marijuana, the public records act and additional transportation issues directly relating to Monroe were discussed.