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Originally published September 20, 2014 at 4:04 PM | Page modified September 24, 2014 at 11:03 AM

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Editorials: Questions to ask candidates before the November 2014 election

Voters themselves can find plenty of opportunity to ask candidates about important topics. Here are some questions The Seattle Times editorial board recommends voters ask, along with our explanation of why they are important.

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Questions for state candidates continue throughout this week. Look for guest columns and join in the discussion:

What would you ask candidates? Why? Submit your comment in the Northwest Voices blog and it may be featured in print and online

Read more in the series:

Kate Riley: What distinguished the best state candidates in the Nov. 4 election

Guest opinion: What to ask state candidates about education

Guest opinion: What questions to ask state candidates about transportation

Guest opinion: The higher education choices for state lawmakers

GET ready for the barrage of candidates and campaign information heading toward your doorstep.

Since May, throughout the state, legislative candidates have been doorbelling, speaking at rallies, riding in parades, glad-handing at fairs and meeting with newspaper editorial boards. The Seattle Times editorial board continues to publish its recommendations for voters to consider when they cast their ballots. But voters themselves can find plenty of opportunity to ask candidates about important topics. Here are some questions we recommend voters ask, along with our explanation of why they are important.

  • EDUCATION What will you do about McCleary?
  • EDUCATION How will you ensure state education money improves outcomes?
  • TRANSPORTATION: What do you plan to do about transportation?
  • MARIJUANA: What are the next steps for marijuana reform?
  • MENTAL HEALTH What will the Legislature do about the mental-health crisis?

  • What will you do about McCleary?

    Why this matters:

    Illustrations: Gabriel Campanario / The Seattle Times

    THE state Supreme Court's McCleary decision is the central issue of the coming session. The 2012 ruling gave lawmakers five years to fully fund basic education, instead of relying on local school-district levies, and the court is getting impatient.

    Two weeks ago, it held the state in contempt but delayed penalties until after the legislative session, making it clear next year's Legislature can't get by with half-measures.

    A few good ideas are being discussed, but most talk this campaign season has been about slogans — too often Democrats talk about closing business-tax loopholes, and Republicans talk about "funding education first." Neither idea would solve the daunting problem of pumping billions of dollars more into K-12 while maintaining other vital services. Lawmakers need to increase spending levels by at least $3 billion, every two years, by the time they write a budget for 2017-2019.

    "Where would you get the money?" is the most direct question. Most candidates won't have an answer, but they should demonstrate they are giving the matter serious thought.

    Then the follow-up: Will they vote for the Washington Education Association's Initiative 1351? The union's expansive class-size-reduction measure would force the hiring of 25,000 school-district employees at an additional cost of nearly $4 billion. If yes, how do they propose paying for it? Don't let them duck that one.

    How will you ensure state education money improves outcomes?

    Why this matters:

    THE most important aspect of the Legislature's McCleary challenge is how to move the debate to the issue that counts — ensuring state education money is improving an education system that is failing too many of our students.

    That means:

    The state Constitution gives the court the ability to second-guess the adequacy of school finance. But the real challenge facing education is less about money than it is about preparing our children for successful lives and to contribute to a robust economy.

    Precisely because the court's order has forced a top-to-bottom overhaul of the finance system, lawmakers should consider reforms to programs to go with it.

    A thoughtful candidate will recognize that this crisis is really an opportunity to improve the prospects of all of our state's children.

    What do you plan to do about transportation?

    Why this matters:

    MAINTAINING Washington's vast network of roads, bridges and waterways is critical to the state's economy.

    Since 2013, lawmakers have failed to raise enough revenue to fix a backlog of transportation problems or to fund new projects. Earlier this year, plans to raise between $8 billion and $12 billion for transportation sputtered and stalled over disagreements on reforms and the state's role in funding transit.

    Next January, legislators must set aside their differences and pass a transportation package, even if it is modest and narrow in scope. More and more lawmakers are acknowledging that the state must rebuild public confidence in the Washington State Department of Transportation, which has been riddled with problems ranging from the Highway 520 bridge's cracked pontoons to Bertha — the world's largest tunneling machine — getting stuck in the middle of the Highway 99 tunnel project.

    Especially given the McCleary challenge, the Legislature should focus on maintaining what already exists. Instead of a 11.5-cent gas-tax increase as previously proposed, the Legislature could consider something likely more palatable to voters, such as a 4-cent increase.

    Here's what all sides agree on: Goods need to get to market, and people need to travel on roads and bridges that are safe.

    State lawmakers should spend taxpayers' dollars wisely, ensure accountability — then come back in the future to ask for more.

    What are the next steps for marijuana reform?

    Why this matters:

    THE recreational marijuana market authorized by voters in 2012 is heavily taxed to fund prevention efforts, and is strictly regulated to ensure quality and security. Yet, the state Legislature has failed to rein in the larger, completely unregulated and mostly untaxed marijuana industry that serves medical patients. Seattle currently has just one recreational store, but dozens of medical dispensaries.

    These two markets should be merged.

    Lawmakers must ensure legitimately suffering patients get a break from the steep so-called sin taxes of the recreational market, and should continue to allow home grows for them. Ensuring that patients are legitimate also requires a much tighter rein on medical professionals who glibly hand out "green card" medical-marijuana authorizations to otherwise healthy young men.

    The recreational market needs tweaking too — to entice more cities and counties to open their borders to state-licensed marijuana stores. Without broader access, black-market marijuana sales, which voters directly targeted in passing Initiative 502, would continue to flourish.

    What will the Legislature do about the mental-health crisis?

    Why this matters:

    A STATE Supreme Court ruling last month invalidated the practice of so-called psychiatric boarding as a stopgap method to deal with chronic underfunding of the mental-health system.

    Patients were being housed in emergency rooms when there were no inpatient beds available. Washington ranks near the bottom of the nation in the number of psychiatric hospital beds after years of cuts.

    Changing that means the Legislature must find hundreds of new treatment beds, or take the risk of cutting loose patients, who are potentially dangerous to themselves or others, from hospital emergency rooms without treatment.

    This is a big issue in King County, where more than 2,000 patients were boarded (or temporarily detained, without treatment, in emergency rooms) last year. The practice was both inhumane and inefficient. Good riddance.

    Responding to the Supreme Court ruling likely will require $100 million or more in new funding. In addition to more inpatient beds, the Legislature should add outpatient mental-health treatment and supported housing, which prevent hospitalization.

    Lawmakers should also consider a change in the law allowing courts to require people with serious mental illness to get outpatient treatment, similar to orders made for inpatient treatment but without the need for a bed.

    Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Jonathan Martin, Erik Smith, Thanh Tan, Blanca Torres, Robert J. Vickers, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).


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