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Bellingham City Club panelists: Legislators could suspend class-size measure

THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

A smaller class-size measure that voters barely passed this election could be suspended by legislators who have not supported K-12 education to the state’s constitutional standards — at least that’s how things appeared likely to pan out according to three political analysts who spoke to Bellingham City Club Wednesday, Nov. 19.

For the club’s last meeting of the year, panelists Jerry Cornfield, Cathy Allen and Bruce Boram tried to unravel what happened during the midterm election, and what Washington residents might see in the coming year.

Though election results won’t be finalized by counties around the state until Tuesday, Initiative 1351, the measure calling for smaller class sizes for each grade, had 51 percent of the vote, enough to avoid a recount. Statewide about 4,000 ballots were left to be processed Wednesday.

Critics of 1351 have said it does not provide a way to fund the extra staff and teachers it mandates, and could cost the state a few billion dollars to implement.

Cornfield, political reporter for The Herald of Everett, told the City Club audience he suspected the Legislature would suspend the initiative.

“If (the measure) didn’t have King County support, it wouldn’t have passed,” Cornfield said. “I don’t think lawmakers feel pressured enough to get that done.”

While Cornfield floated the possibility of an increase in the statewide property tax to help fund the education standards mandated by the also-costly McCleary decision, political consultant Allen said she didn’t think the Legislature would increase the property tax or institute an income tax.

“I think we’ll settle for less than what we’re supposed to be paying and hope the Supreme Court doesn’t throw us in jail,” Allen said.

Though the state’s high court found the Legislature in contempt this fall for not working hard enough to fix education funding per the decision, legislators won’t face punishment for lack of progress until after the 2015 session.

Allen, who has worked extensively to get women and minorities into office, and Boram, a political consultant who has worked with various Republican groups, also discussed the reasons the midterm election largely favored Republican candidates.

Just about half of voters statewide — 54 percent — turned out for the election this year.

Fewer Democrats voted in this election, while Republicans saw an increase in participation, Allen said.

Even though Republicans took control of the state Senate, the results were not necessarily a mandate to lawmakers, Boram said.

“Republicans don’t feel like they won the day,” Boram said. “What you’re seeing is a lot of cynicism from the public — that’s why people stayed home, that’s why Democrats stayed home.”

Around the country, progressive issues such as marijuana legalization and higher minimum wage were supported by voters, but Democratic candidates still lost, Allen said.

“Voters liked the ideas but not the candidates,” Allen said. “They’re telling us, ‘I just don’t have faith in the people you’re sending up.’”

With Republicans narrowing the gap in the state House to 51 Democrats and 47 Republicans, Cornfield said he suspected the representatives might try to form a Majority Coalition Caucus with members from both parties, similar to that formed by the Senate before last session.

A link to video of the meeting will be available on the club’s website, bellinghamcityclub.org.

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