Op-Ed

Jobs, education important to Whatcom County

Metal is poured in 2013 at Alcoa Intalco Works in Ferndale.
Metal is poured in 2013 at Alcoa Intalco Works in Ferndale. The Bellingham Herald

As I finish my first term as your representative, I look back on the goals I had when I took the oath of office. Two years ago, I promised to take our Whatcom values to Olympia. Values that are key to a meaningful quality of life: improving schools, keeping neighborhoods safe and protecting our farms and local jobs.

Protecting local jobs at our Cherry Point industries and, most importantly, the Alcoa Intalco plant in Ferndale has been a top priority for me this year. The 42nd Legislative District delegation has worked with stakeholders to save Intalco. I was encouraged by the three-month delay of the curtailment, but it is not enough. Keeping Intalco open is vital for our local economy. These are much-needed family-wage jobs.

As part of taking Whatcom values to Olympia, I am fighting to make government live within its means, just like we do in our household budgets.

While we need to get people back to work, we also need to make sure students are ready to enter the workforce when they graduate. Serving on the House Higher Education Committee has ignited a passion in me to make post-high school education more affordable. I could not come from a better legislative district to get the full spectrum of our higher education system! Whatcom is home to Western Washington University, Whatcom Community College, Bellingham Technical College, the Northwest Indian College as well as several private colleges.

Improving accessibility to higher education and strengthening our career and technical education programs will help prepare graduates for a competitive job market. In addition to the historic tuition cuts we made last year, we successfully back-filled dollars to bolster the tuition reduction plan. Then, this session I introduced a bill to inform community and technical college students on the costs of textbooks and course materials before they sign up for a class. Many students have told me the costs of textbooks and materials are one of the biggest financial challenges they face. This bill could reduce costs by adding transparency to some of the expenses associated with higher education. Unfortunately, this bipartisan bill did not come up for a vote this session, but I plan to reintroduce it next session.

I realize, however, that a four-year college degree is not for everyone. Industries in Whatcom County have told me there is a real need for people with the skills like welding, agriculture and construction. That is why career and technical education programs in high schools are so important. They play a vital role, especially at a time when many struggle with the “affordability” of a higher education. I have been fighting to restore career and technical education funding as they combine core academics with real-world application in programs such as shop class and student leadership organizations like Future Farmers of America. Many of these programs provide skills that lead to good family-sustaining jobs and careers.

We managed to protect taxpayers in the budget this year. We had no tax increases on our citizens or local businesses, despite proposals from many Seattle legislators that would have increased taxes by more than $400 million through the next four-year budget cycle. As part of taking Whatcom values to Olympia, I am fighting to make government live within its means, just like we do in our household budgets.

House Republicans brought the two-thirds vote requirement for tax increases up again this session. Even though voters have passed this by initiative many times, with strong support from Whatcom County, a King County judge recently struck it down. Unfortunately, the other side of the aisle refused to listen to the will of the voters and the vote narrowly failed. With an increase in tax revenue of $3 billion last budget cycle from existing tax rates, we don’t need more taxes from families and small businesses to make state government work for us.

I have been so honored to represent Whatcom County as one of your representatives. Over the next few months I will be in district, and will make at point to listen to the people of Whatcom County. Please let me know what your thoughts are as you see me in your neighborhood or at community meetings. After all, I work for you!

Luanne Van Werven is Washington state Representative for the 42nd Legislative District, Position 1.The district includes all of Whatcom County except south Bellingham and the southwest corner of the county. The Lynden Republican took office in 2014. She serves as the assistant ranking member on the House State Government Committee, and also serves on the House Higher Education and Appropriations committees.

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