As Lawmakers Start Session, Spokane Senator Outlines Priorities

By Paige Browning

Every Washington state lawmaker has one thing on their mind as they begin their legislative session: how to balance the budget.  Not only that, but increasing spending on education as mandated by the Supreme Court. 

Washington Senator Andy BilligDemocrat Andy Billig is preparing for the session as a freshman senator.  Senator Billig, from the 3rd legislative district in Spokane, suggests lawmakers find new sources of revenue to try to avoid cutting any budget areas.
 
Billig: "Sometimes people say ‘well how is it that we’re spending all this money on taxes, and we don’t have enough money for education.’ Well, the reality is we’re spending less than ever, in terms of taxes, and so that’s why we face these cuts every year.  So we’ve got to make additional investments overall.”
 
Incoming Governor Jay Inslee, however, insists on no new taxes during their 2013 session.  Billig says he is worried if they don’t find a new revenue source, lawmakers possibly have to make more cuts to social programs.

Billig: “You might say we’re going to spend this additional money on education, to for instance lower class size, and we’re going to have 17 kids in a class, isn’t that great.  And that is great. But if that child comes to school, to that class of 17 students, and they didn’t have a safe place to sleep the night before, or they come to school sick because they don’t have health insurance, they’re not going to be ready to learn.”

Senator Andy Billig with supporters at a 2013 election night party.In the heap of topics state lawmakers face in the 2013 legislature, Billig keeps a few at the top of his pile.  Billig says he will work on elections issues like adding transparency and increasing access to voter registration.   

He will work on fighting for social programs like Sally’s House for foster children in Spokane.  And, he will focus on transportation.
 
Billig, in fact, is one 20 Washingtonians testing out the pay-as-you-go driving program.  In test mode only, drivers install a device in their car to track how many miles they drive on state roads, and are charged equivalently.  If implemented state-wide, this would replace the gas tax imposed on drivers.  He says he doesn't know yet "if it’s an effective solution for our state, but it is something we should explore.”

Billig is one for alternative transportation modes, and walks to work some days in Olympia.  He and other eastern Washington lawmakers have big shoes to fill this year, following State Senator Lisa Brown stepping down from office last year.
 
Billig: “We have a terrific team of legislators from our delegation, on both sides on the aisle.  From the third district, in terms of picking up and filling the hole left by Lisa leaving, I think we’ve got a great team.”

That team and others have settled into Olympia and begin the session this week.

Copyright 2013 Spokane Public Radio

Photos:
Senator Andy Billig. Photo from Washington State Legislature website.
Senator Andy Billig with supporters at a 2013 election night party. Photo from Kristen Black.
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