The complete audio portion of Mr. England’s interview can be heard by clicking on the podcast symbol above.

The Washington State Legislative session is heating up. What are some of the hot issues being discussed? Trent England, Executive vice president of the Freedom Foundation has these observations.

Washington State Budget debate in Olympia

Washington State’s legislative budget battle is heating up. State law requires the budget to be balanced annually. So, if no budget agreement is reached between the Democrats in the House and the Republicans in the Senate anytime soon, a special session may be necessary.

“It seems like all the focus before the legislature comes into session in January is about the budget and as soon as the legislature actually comes to town the focus shifts to all the policy ideas.” said England.

England went on to highlight recent debates in Olympia ranging from abortion, health insurance mandates and gun control, “One of the things The Freedom Foundation has been very critical about in the past is the degree these debates happen in the back rooms, behind closed doors. We really think that the budget process should be transparent.”

“Washington State’s current budget…about a third of the money comes from the Federal Government. So, before anyone listening out there believes the line that Washington State has a balanced budget, we should all remember that when we are taking a third of the money from the Federal Government and a third of all that Federal money, actually more than a third, right now almost 38 cents on a dollar, is borrowed from our future… So, they can call that a balanced budget, I call that a big problem and taxation without representation when we are taking money from future generations.”

Legalizing recreational marijuana in Washington State

The Freedom foundation tends to stay away from social issues, but they are keeping a close eye on initiative 502. There are people very interested in getting as much revenue out of the new marijuana sales as possible. There are investor groups out there who are hoping to make a lot of money off the marijuana business. When the current legislative session ends in late April, we are not going to have a lot of clarity about this because at the end of the day the big issue on marijuana is the Federal Government.” According to England.

The Federal Government has stated they will not enforce current Federal law, but that could change. The bottom line is that we will have to wait several years to see how the courts will rule.

Underemployment vs. Unemployment

The Olympian stated that Washington state ranked fifth worst in the country last year at 16.9 percent. Mr. England observed, “One of the other issues is that has been in the press here in the last few days relates to under-employment and Washington State was found to have the fifth worst under-employment in the country. So, that means about 17% of the people in Washington State who are working are not working as much as they would like to be working.”

Unemployment rates continue to be a concern in Olympia and report from the Employment Security Department of Washington State shows why.

Columbia River Crossing Light Rail Tolling Project

The Freedom Foundation is closely watching the megaproject, the I-5 bridge replacement project.“Some people in government seem to have the attitude, and we see this in transportation, we see this in education, the attitude that because it’s really important, we shouldn’t ask questions. And we, you know, should have less accountability in these areas that are more important. And, you know, The Freedom Foundation, we think that is exactly wrong. Exactly the opposite position, you know, education is important, transportation is important, therefore these areas should have the most rigorous accountability, the most openness and transparency to the public- we’re not seeing that in the Columbia River Crossing Project. That’s a big problem.” Said England.

“One of the problems with the way these processes work when you bring that up with insiders, the conversation tends to come back to well we’ve already spent a lot of money on this and so we have to keep spending.”

For Washington State Legislature to move ahead with the Columbia River Crossing Project they have a lot of work to do. First, they need to determine funding for education, decide how to hold the line on taxes; Federal budget problems and sequestration play an important part in where the money comes from. Second, can state legislators avoid conflict between public sector unions and private sector unions? Will the Columbia River Crossing Project move ahead? According to England, “at this point it’s just hard to say.”