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Cleveland comments on CRC status in Oregon

September 23rd, 2013|

Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, released this statement today regarding the possibility of the Oregon State Legislature approving legislation to fund the Columbia River Crossing during its pending special legislative session:

“Lest they be misled by an overly vocal minority from our side of the river, Oregon lawmakers should know that a majority of Washington legislators support the Columbia River Crossing project. I believe a revenue package that funded the CRC would have passed in our 2013 legislative session if the Senate’s Majority Coalition Caucus had not blocked it from coming to the floor for a vote.

“The most vociferous opposition to the CRC has come from a Washington lawmaker who represents a district miles from the existing Interstate 5 bridges. Oregon lawmakers should know that the Washington lawmakers in the district most central to the bridge and where the bridge is located strongly support the CRC.

“It’s important to remember that a post-session proposal from a group of business leaders from both sides of the Columbia River wrote to urge Gov. Inslee to work with Gov. Kitzhaber to explore their new proposal which satisfies all concerns Republicans put forth in the 2013 session. This plan does not require new taxes and the funding to include light rail will come from the federal government, not from Washington taxpayers.

“I know that the last thing Oregon lawmakers need is directives from Washington lawmakers. I respectfully offer my comments not as guidance but simply to correct misleading information conveyed by others from our side of the river.

“Replacing the antiquated Interstate 5 bridge — now — remains the single most important safety and economic issue facing us as a community, state and region. Our economic viability and ability to meet the needs of the future hinge on doing the right thing now. I believe history will judge us as leaders by how well we prepare for the future and that of future generations.”

Town hall meeting on Saturday, Sept. 7

September 5th, 2013|

I hope I’ll see you when my 49th Legislative District seatmates, State Rep. Jim Moeller and  State Rep. Sharon Wylie, join me in hosting a town hall meeting from 10 a.m. to noon this Saturday, Sept. 7, at the Educational Service District 112 building at 2500 Northeast 65th Ave. in Vancouver.

We’ll discuss the recent 2013 legislative sessions, the upcoming 2014 session, and field questions and concerns from constituents.

I look forward to seeing you there!

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Cleveland commends governor’s efforts on CRC

July 5th, 2013|

Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, and Sen. Tracey Eide, co-chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, today issued these statements commending Gov. Jay Inslee for his dedication and tenacity in trying to persuade the 2013 Legislature to pass a transportation revenue package that would have funded Washington state’s share of the Columbia River Crossing.

“Gov. Inslee spoke out early, he spoke out throughout the legislative session, and he spoke out in the final days of session on the need for this critical spoke in our regional infrastructure,” Cleveland said. “From day one to the final day of session, Gov. Inslee never lost sight of our state’s critical needs. I frankly don’t know what more he could have done.”

“There was a key group of players who never gave up on the CRC, right up till the final hours of session, and Gov. Inslee was prominent among them,” Eide said. “Whatever we asked of him, he provided, often without our even asking. He brought federal Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to Olympia to amplify our message, and the two of them were very clear about the stakes. They left no question, not only of the need for a new bridge but of the reality that we would lose $850 million in federal funds if we failed to act.”

“I am saddened that some in the Legislature were unwilling to be partners in the prosperity of our state,” Cleveland said. “The CRC is critical not only to those in the Vancouver area who cross the river daily but to regional and statewide businesses that rely on I-5 for the reliable movement of freight. The short-sightedness of those who refused to invest in this state’s future will have negative repercussions for generations to come.”

“We still have until September to meet the deadline,” Eide said. “I hold out hope that those who have stymied the project so far will realize the stakes and join with the governor and us in moving our state forward in everyone’s best interests. If a project of this importance can be derailed for partisan political games at the local level, it bodes poorly for the future of transportation across our state.”

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    Cleveland comments on Legislature’s failure to fund Columbia River Crossing

Cleveland comments on Legislature’s failure to fund Columbia River Crossing

July 1st, 2013|

Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, released this statement today regarding the failure of the Legislature to fund the Columbia River Crossing as part of a transportation revenue package:

"This is a sad day for our district and our state. The Columbia River Crossing project is the single most important investment we can make for our future — and key lawmakers are refusing to make it.

“At a time when Vancouver and our surrounding region suffer from one of the highest unemployment rates in the state, the CRC project would have provided more than 20,000 jobs through project design and construction. By 2030, 4,200 additional regional and state jobs would have been created, adding $231 million in additional wages to our local economy. Not anymore.

“I was hopeful that my colleagues across the aisle would choose to be partners in the prosperity of our region and our state, not obstructionists. I consider the failure to address our aging infrastructure as nothing less than a dereliction of our duty as legislators. Our constituents expect us to roll up our sleeves and make hard decisions, not stick our heads in the sand while every new day risks the collapse of a functionally obsolete bridge. I would have thought the CRC opponents would have taken stark notice of the collapse of the Skagit River Bridge in Mt. Vernon earlier this year, but apparently that wake up call was lost on them.

“As many of you know, I work in health care and I also view this project as a health and safety issue for our community. The heavy traffic congestion leads to accidents every day and we see the results of those accidents in the emergency rooms of our hospitals. Not only that, the only level-one trauma care in our region is available in Portland. If a loved one needs trauma care, and the bridge is backed up with traffic, the only option is helicopter transport; this is expensive and not always possible if weather conditions prevent flight, or when there are multiple trauma cases at one time. The human costs of further delay of this project are as unacceptable as the economic costs of delay.

“Our community and state is what it is today because of people who came before us who made the right decisions to invest in our infrastructure. We must continue that legacy for the next generation.”

LIFT bill heads to Gov. Inslee’s desk

June 28th, 2013|

A bill (HB 1306) to extend the expiration date of the Local Infrastructure Financing Tool Program (LIFT) from June 30, 2039 to June 30, 2044, was approved by the Legislature Thursday.

"This critical extension to finish the project and keep our promises to our community could not have happened without bipartisan teamwork,” said the bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. Sharon Wylie, Dr-Vanouver, who worked closely with Sens. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, and Ann Rivers, R-La Center, to move the bill forward. “It is our job as legislators to strengthen economic development opportunities throughout our county. When we work together, we all win. I look forward to more cooperative efforts.”

“These projects are vital to our economic recovery in Vancouver, and this legislation is critical to allowing these projects to proceed,” Cleveland said. “This will not only ensure a brighter future for our community but will pay off in the short term in the form of jobs, revenue and prosperity.”

“Working with my colleagues to keep promises and make sure that businesses can grow is why I love this job. I am proud that we could get this done, even in a difficult year,” said Rivers.

While Wylie’s bill is necessary to keep the Library Square project in Vancouver moving, it also buys time for other LIFT projects throughout the state.

In 2006 the Legislature created the LIFT program to help cities and counties promote job creation and economic development. It allows local governments to capture a portion of sales, property and excise tax revenue coming into a designated area – such as money from increased commerce or construction to improve water lines, roads, affordable housing and other infrastructure necessary for development. LIFT helps local governments and communities draw in new businesses and help existing ones expand.

The Library Square project, explained Wylie, is a huge asset to downtown Vancouver, as it includes multi-story buildings, office and retail space, condos, a hotel and an underground garage for 400 cars. LIFT financing of approximately $15 million for this project will be used to purchase a portion of the underground-structure parking in the garage, which will be operated for public parking. 

According to estimates by the City of Vancouver, with the LIFT extension Vancouver would get $8 million in revenue.

“The support of the community for the library, the philanthropy of our good citizens, and our partnerships with the private sector were all part of this success, and the benefits from this project will be shared by all,” Wylie said. “With this legislation and a rebounding economy we will now realize our dream of a high density, mixed-use urban center in the heart of our downtown.”

Wylie’s bill will also extend the time during which local jurisdictions can receive a sales-and-use tax credit as long as they begin construction by June 30, 2017. It will also provide a pay-as-you go option for the length of the program, rather than requiring construction bonds to be issued within five years.

Wylie explained that these changes won’t increase the bonding limit or raise any additional taxes.

An update on Special Session II

June 13th, 2013|

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Sen. Cleveland’s enewsletter update 6/3/2013

June 3rd, 2013|

Greetings,

The collapse of the Skagit River Bridge up in Mount Vernon two weeks ago provided a sobering reminder of how fragile our transportation infrastructure can be and how much we rely on a safe and effective transportation system.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in our 49th Legislative District, where the Columbia River Crossing project has been debated for over a decade. As newspapers have pointed out in editorials like this, the collapse of the Skagit River Bridge is a wake-up call we can’t afford to ignore.

We’ve known for some time that our transportation system needed improvement. In the American Society of Civil Engineers’ recent annual report card on our nation’s infrastructure, Washington received a grade of “C” for overall physical infrastructure and a “D+” for roads and for mass transit. Spinning our wheels when instead we can, and should, be replacing vulnerable bridges is a recipe for tragedy.

The existing I-5 bridges spanning the Columbia River are nothing if not poster children for the state of our stagnant infrastructure. Like the Skagit River Bridge, the Columbia bridges are rated “functionally obsolete” in the American Society of Civil Engineers’ 2013 Report Card for Washington’s Infrastructure. This means they lack adequate approach alignment, geometry, clearance, structural adequacy or waterway adequacy to meet current traffic needs or standards. In other words, they do not meet today’s basic safety requirements. (You can find a simple glossary of these terms and standards in this post by our friends in the House Democratic Caucus.)

I must admit I was shocked to see the swiftness with which a number of bridge opponents issued public comments so quickly upon the bridge’s collapse — not to voice any concern for public safety but to discourage people from drawing the obvious and logical correlation between the collapse and the tenuous state of the I-5 bridges across the Columbia. The state of our infrastructure, and our efforts to ensure safe roads for the public, should be a far more urgent priority than trying to score political points. I should think that ensuring public safety would be far more important than pursuing a personal bias against light rail.

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In a related sense, the Skagit River Bridge collapse highlights not just our need to replace risky structures but also the need to generate the funds to do so. Maintenance of our existing road network has become a major problem for Washington state as we’ve seen an 11-percent increase in our state highway paving backlog and a 32-percent decrease in county road paving.

Our mass transit system has faced large budget cuts in recent years due to dwindling sales tax revenue, and much of our road system still consists of roads and highways built 50 to 60 years ago, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.

These findings underscore the need for the Legislature to pass a transportation bill this year that would raise revenues to pay for highway construction and maintenance and grant major transit agencies the authority to ask voters in their service areas if they’d be willing to raise local motor vehicle excise taxes to pay for transit service.

In the short term, this revenue would create jobs in construction and related industries. Over the long term, it would enable us to maintain our infrastructure and strengthen our economy to provide a more stable path to prosperity. The bill has strong support, and it’s important that we have the opportunity to vote on this bill before the end of the special session.

In our state’s proud past, earlier generations made similar investments so that you and I and our families could reap the benefits in the form of economic expansion, jobs and other opportunities that helped our middle class thrive and prosper. Today it’s our turn to do our share so that the generations that follow us can enjoy similar opportunities.

Washington state ranks 46th in education spending

US Census Bureau data on state K-12 education spending just released for the 2010-2011 school year shows Washington spends $9,483 per student, which is below the national average of $10,560 per student. When measured relative to each state’s personal income, we ranked 46th in the country. That’s better than the 2009-2010 school year, when we ranked 49th, but it’s still bad. In fact, it’s ‘worse than bad — it’s unacceptable.

I hope there isn’t a single member of the Legislature who is content for our state to be 46th in spending on education, our state’s paramount duty. I’m certainly not okay with it. This data emphasizes the importance of making a major increase in education spending, as we’ve been ordered to do by the state Supreme Court.

Funding education is our moral and constitutional obligation, and we can’t pay for our schools with accounting gimmicks and sleight-of-hand. We need an honest budget that seriously moves the ball toward fulfilling our Supreme Court mandated-obligation to increase K-12 funding by $4.5 billion by 2018. I’m spending this special session working towards negotiating a final budget that makes real progress in funding education. This is our paramount duty and there’s no reason — or excuse — if we fail to pass a final budget that delivers for our kids.

Insurance coverage expands as we implement health care reform

As a part of the federal Affordable Care Act, each state will maintain a health insurance exchange, an online marketplace where consumers who don’t have insurance through their employers can compare and buy health care insurance. Each state will oversee its own marketplace to make sure that plans provide fair and affordable coverage in compliance with federal regulations.  Washington’s exchange, called the WAHealthPlanFinder, will begin open enrollment in October 2013, for health insurance plans that will start January 2014.

Insurance companies have recently begun submitting plans to the state insurance commissioner to be eligible for sale through the exchange later this year. While some had previously speculated that state and federal regulations would drive up prices, the plans so far have mostly been about the same or cheaper than those for sale in our current marketplace.  Proposed rates still must be approved by the state insurance commissioner.

In cases where prices may increase relative to where they are currently, it may be because coverage is being expanded in the version offered on the exchange. Federal law now requires that all plans include coverage for 10 essential health benefits, which may result in a slightly higher premium for some plans.  It also may result in savings to consumers who will experience a more robust plan that covers more health care services, such as expensive prescription drugs, expanded mental health treatment, and maternity care, through decreased out-of-pocket expenses.  A plan’s deductible also will affect rates, with higher deductibles usually resulting in slightly lower premiums. Consumers also may see rate adjustments because federal law no longer allows insurance carriers to charge different rates based solely on gender. 

To assist consumers with the purchase of health insurance, federal income-based subsidies will be available through the exchange for households earning up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level — about $44,680 for an individual or $92,200 for a family of four.

The Affordable Care Act also does a great deal to protect insurance consumers from being suddenly dropped from their health insurance or denied coverage based on pre-existing conditions.  The legislature and multiple state agencies have been working over the past few years to prepare this online insurance marketplace, and I’m looking forward to it being up and running later this year. The exchange will greatly help with the transparency of the costs and benefits of different insurance plans, allowing consumers to do an apples-to-apples comparison while shopping in the exchange. I am looking forward to more Washingtonians being able to find, compare, and enroll in reliable and robust health insurance coverage through the exchange.

Until next time,

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Cleveland applauds Inslee veto of CRC funds

May 23rd, 2013|

Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, released this statement today regarding Gov. Jay Inslee’s veto of $81.9 million in funding for the Columbia River Crossing in the Legislature’s transportation budget:

"Many people in and around my district have been asking about the governor’s veto, and I can understand why there might be questions, when CRC opponents are actively mischaracterizing his actions.

“The governor has been crystal clear, including as recently as this past Monday during a transportation rally, that he wants full funding for the CRC this year so that we can qualify for $850 million in federal funds. If we pass up that $850 million, the governor feels it makes little sense to spend $81.9 million in a wasted effort, and he’s right.

“Sadly, the opponents’ misguided mantra that hundreds of millions of dollars in federal aid will somehow be there for us in the future will cost Vancouver and Washington taxpayers dearly. This money goes away if we do not commit to our share by September. If that happens, we will either be unable to replace the unsafe, outmoded bridge with a modern structure or we will pay a much higher price to replace the bridge in future years.

“It’s frustrating to hear CRC opponents continually confuse the facts. They say the project cannot win Coast Guard approval, when the Coast Guard is in the process of evaluating the proposal. They say $850 million in federal funds that come with a September deadline will still be available after the deadline, even though federal officials have made it clear that is in fact not the case. They say businesses along the river cannot be mitigated when in fact mitigation is in the process of being negotiated for the three most crucial businesses. Most recently, they say the governor’s veto of a CRC budget item is a vote against the project when in fact the governor has emphatically called for the Legislature to fully fund Washington’s $450 million portion of the CRC and sees the current CRC proposal with light rail as the only viable option.

“To turn down $850 million in federal funding would be a costly mistake for our community and one I fear we would regret for many years to come. I am unwilling to make a mistake that expensive and detrimental to our community.”

“I am grateful for the Governor’s continued support for this project and his bold leadership to ensure the future economic health and viability of our community and state through strategic investment in our transportation infrastructure. I remain steadfast in my effort to arrange for our state to commit its share of funding for the CRC by September and qualify for the federal funds and I continue to work with my seatmates, Rep. Jim Moeller and Rep. Sharon Wylie, to make this a reality.”

Sen. Cleveland’s e-newsletter update 4/30/2013

April 30th, 2013|

Greetings,

With the close of the regular legislative session, Gov. Jay Inslee called for the Legislature to return May 13 for a special legislative session to complete budget negotiations and pass budgets for the coming two-year biennium.

This short break will give negotiators time to reach agreement on the operating and capital budgets and the fiscal bills necessary to implement them. I’m hopeful we can return and wrap things up quickly. A special session may not last more than 30 days but can be concluded as soon as the Legislature completes its work. Last year, for instance, the Senate and House were so close to a final agreement at the end of the first 30-day special session that the Legislature immediately went into a second special session that lasted only a matter of hours.

We are working hard to fund the Columbia River Crossing

From the start of session, I have been working steadily with my 49th District seatmates, Rep. Jim Moeller and Rep. Sharon Wylie, to arrange funding for the Columbia River Crossing. We’ve been meeting regularly, and our efforts have paid off on a number of fronts.

The Senate transportation budget passed by the Legislature includes $82 million in CRC funding for preliminary design work to keep the project moving forward. It’s important to remember that these funds do not address our obligation to commit to the $450 million that is our share of the project. We remain absolutely determined to obtain those funds and meet our September deadline to qualify for an additional $850 million in federal funds.

To that end, we are working to provide those funds in a major revenue package that would generate money for transportation projects across the state. That package will be addressed during the special session. In any case, we owe a great thanks to Sen. Tracey Eide, the co-chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, who has worked hard on our behalf throughout the session and the difficult negotiations to make sure our mega-project receives as much support as mega-projects in other parts of the state such as Seattle and Spokane.

In addition, Sen. Eide co-sponsored a bill I introduced last week, SB 5923, that would create an alternative source of funding to cover our share of the project. This bill would provide up to $650 million in toll-backed bonds to cover our share of the CRC in case we run into any problems with the revenue package.

Meanwhile, we heard even more good news last week in the form of a Federal Transit Administration summary that reduced the price of the CRC from $3.5 billion to $2.8 billion, saving money by building the project in phases. This is evidence of the continued effort to address concerns regarding the cost of the project and is another example of the willingness to examine alternatives that fit within the parameters of the project process.

As we all know, the heavily trafficked north-south I-5 transportation corridor is vital to smooth, safe travel and the efficient movement of freight from all over our state. In that light, the CRC is vital to our state economy and the creation of the kinds of middle-class jobs that fuel it — not just in the short term, during the construction of the bridge, but in the coming decades as a result of the economic development this project will spur throughout the surrounding communities. That’s one of the reasons local leaders like Ed Lynch, in his recent op-ed in The Columbian, are speaking out to break the gridlock.

It’s also why Transportation Ray LaHood came to Olympia two weeks ago to remind lawmakers of the need to move forward after 15 years of work on the project, saying, “It’s time to fish or cut bait.” Gov. Jay Inslee echoed that message, and I followed up with an interview on TVW’s Inside Olympia to further make the case for the bridge.

Rep. Moeller, Rep. Wylie and I will continue to work on CRC funding throughout the special legislative session to ensure that our state meets the September deadline and qualifies for the $850 million in federal funds. Anything less would be fiscal lunacy and a terrible mistake for our community’s future.

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Making it easier for area residents to get prescriptions filled

One of my goals this session was to make it easier for people for people to have their medical prescriptions filled regardless of where the prescription is written. I’m happy to report that goal was achieved earlier this month when Gov. Jay Inslee signed Senate Bill 5524 into law.

This bill will allow pharmacists in Washington to fill prescriptions written by out-of-state physician assistants. Until now, Washington pharmacists have been unable to fill prescriptions for drugs and controlled substances from out-of-state physician assistants and osteopathic physician assistants unless specifically approved to do so by the Medical Quality Assurance Commission. My bill lifts that prohibition for prescriptions from out-of-state physician assistants who meet the same qualifications as those within the state.

This is good, common-sense legislation that will make life easier for Washington residents and visitors from out of state by removing unnecessary barrier for folks who get sick or whose prescriptions run out. At the same time, it provides the added benefit of keeping business in our state instead of across our borders.

I came to the Legislature to help people, and this is exactly what this bill does. It takes effect within 90 days.

Helping students attain licensing as social workers

I’m also pleased to report the signing of House Bill 1213 into law last week. This is the House companion legislation to a measure I sponsored this session that helps students who are working to be licensed as social workers but face stiff out-of-pocket expenses due to logistical difficulties in receiving necessary supervision.

This bill will expand the types of health professions that may supervise advanced social workers when performing psychotherapy and requires associate-level social workers to comply with suicide assessment, treatment, and management training requirements. It also will extend the number of times that an associate-level license for social workers, marriage and family therapists, and mental health counselors may be renewed from four to six.

Given the critical role our social workers play, the easier we make their transition, the better they can help people.

Until next time,

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Cleveland resolute on CRC funding

April 28th, 2013|

Sen. Don Benton’s continued efforts to stall the Columbia River Crossing are contrary to the interests of households and businesses in southwest Washington legislative districts, along the vital north-south transportation corridor and across the state Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, said today.

With the regular legislative session ending and a special session scheduled to begin May 13, Cleveland said she would continue to focus intently on the need to fund the replacement of the antiquated Interstate 5 bridges spanning the Columbia River between Washington and Oregon, the Columbia River Crossing project.

“I do not understand the intensity of Sen. Benton’s hostility toward the effort to replace the outmoded lift bridge after more than a decade of study, planning and stakeholder meetings” Cleveland said. “His willingness to squander $850 million in federal funds and $450 million in state funding from Oregon denies our region and our state the tremendous economic development and prosperity this project would bring.” The obstructionism of Sen. Benton and the opposition does not bring us closer to a solution”, Cleveland stated. “In fact, it almost guarantees another decade or more of work in order to start over on a project redesign.”

Public officials ranging from Gov. Jay Inslee to U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood have pointedly warned that the state will forfeit $850 million in federal funds for the $2.8 billion project if it fails to commit to its portion of funding by September 2013. The project plan calls for Washington and Oregon to each commit to $450 million toward the project. Oregon’s legislature has made the commitment, but Washington has not, largely due to opposition led by Benton within the Republican caucus.

“Failing to meet the deadline would be nothing less than fiscal lunacy,” Cleveland said. “The last time our state qualified for federal transportation funds, during the Obama stimulus, we actually wound up with even more than our share because we were awarded additional millions that other states lost by failing to meet the deadline. That’s the way it works — you snooze, you lose. If we do that this time, our funds will go to other states instead of ours.”

Additionally, if the state misses this year’s deadline, the CRC project would go to the back of the federal project list and might not be eligible for new federal funds for years, if ever. At the same time, the cost of building a new bridge would increase by $50 million to $70 million each year that the project is delayed.

“Sen. Benton’s opposition to this project is a mistake and it is a costly mistake,” Cleveland said. “Sen. Benton is asking us to make an $850 million mistake.”

Cleveland, who has worked tirelessly with her House seatmates to move the CRC project forward, said she remains steadfast in those efforts out of concern for the future of the communities throughout her district.

“I don’t think anyone should try to force my constituents and the voters of our region into giving up on the project after more than 10 years of plans, meetings, compromise, redesign and collective agreements, and after a poll released as recently as last week shows that a majority favors the project,” Cleveland said. “I will not stand idly by and let anyone drive us away from what is smart and right for our region and for the economic development and jobs we so desperately need to help us rebound from the Great Recession. I am not afraid to stand up for the future of this community as leaders before me have done”.