As the 2013 legislative session begins, Washington is facing challenges that are both new and familiar: lingering effects from the economic recession, an underfunded education system, and a transportation network in need of modernization.
As chair of the Technology and Economic Committee, my top priority will be leading the House of Representative's efforts to create jobs in Washington. This means pushing for new, improved and expanded ways of assisting our small businesses, providing strategic export financing to grow Washington's international trade economy and continuing the development of industry clusters in high-demand fields such as aerospace and biotechnology. It also means examining our existing programs to ensure they are operating efficiently and meeting their intended goal of supporting and encourage private-sector growth.
Part of getting Washington back to work will mean working with Gov. Jay Inslee to grow Washington's clean technology and renewable energy sectors. These technology-driven, green-collar industries were the only ones to grow during the great recession, and will provide family-wage jobs for our state's residents while improving energy efficiency and keeping our environment clean. Green-collar jobs are not a panacea, but as the legislature looks to reinvigorate Washington's economy they must be one of many pistons in a diversified jobs engine.
Due to the high-tech nature of many jobs in green industries, addressing higher education and workforce training is also critical this session. Both areas have seen budget reductions in previous years, causing tuition to rise and endangering our ability to adequately prepare students for jobs in high-demand fields. Consequently, good Washington-grown jobs are being filled by workers from other states - and other countries.
Specifically in the 40th district, I will strive to minimize any further cuts to Western Washington University. Western is the most efficient of all our state institutions in educating students on time and under-budget, making the budget cuts even more detrimental.
Beyond economy and education, I will continue working to protect the natural environment and wildlife of Washington state. Every year there are efforts to reduce or repeal our state's environmental protections. I believe, however, that our business can create jobs while preserving the beauty and quality of life that Washingtonians enjoy. Indeed, our state has been defined for decades by our ability to just that.
Locally, one of the most important issues will be reducing the levels of land-based pollutants in the Samish River in order to protect our local shellfish beds in Bellingham Bay. The state must continue supporting local efforts to educate land owners on how to protect this important industry.
Although the state legislature does not have direct oversight over the proposal to export coal from the Pacific Northwest, as a public official I promise to continue to speak out against such efforts. At a time when clean technology is booming in our state, we should not reach backward and grasp hold of an antiquated source of energy to create jobs. We cannot afford the environmental degradation, transportation congestion and public safety liabilities that come with exporting our most significant natural resource. I believe it should be held in reserve until we can leverage it in a cleaner, safer way. China doesn't export large sums of their coal stores, so why should we?
Finally, we must address Washington's transportation infrastructure - in particular our aging ferries. Twenty-two million people ride the Washington Ferry System each year, many of whom call the 40th district home. The state has already commissioned two new ferries, but we must continue to seek new ways to replace our oldest vessels, some of which are nearing 65 years of service. I am committed to seeking a responsible way to fund construction of new ferry boats.
The past few years in the legislature have been the most difficult in memory, and it appears this session will be no different. But I have fought every year to keep our economy strong, protect our environment and keep our residents moving freely and safely across Washington. I have no intention of stopping now, and I look forward to hearing from you throughout the session on how we can rise to meet this new set of challenges.
Representative Jeff Morris, D-Mount Vernon, is the chair of the House Technology and Economic Development Committee and has represented the 40th legislative district since 1997.
The year Rep. Morris took office was corrected Jan. 17, 2013.