State taxpayers got something unusual from the Legislature this year -- real reform.
There's plenty to harp on -- it took lawmakers too long to reach a deal on state spending, the rush to adjourn cut the public out of the final steps and special interests too often trumped the public's interest.
But after years of temporary fixes and repeatedly postponing the difficult choices required to bring state spending under control, lawmakers approved meaningful changes this year.
Are the state's financial troubles behind us? Not even close, but we're happy to be in the glass-half-full camp after last week's budget compromise.
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It's encouraging that compromise even is possible in Olympia. Look to the other Washington to see how well intractable partisanship works.
More importantly, compromise was necessary. Neither party gives ground if it doesn't have to, but lawmakers were forced to make a deal on important reforms after three Democrats from the so-called "Roadkill Caucus" sided with Senate Republicans.
Roadkill refers to the likelihood that any middle-of-the-road politician will get run down by more partisan colleagues. It's fortunate that caucus members didn't live up to their nickname this year.
The three who staked out their territory along the dotted center line and survived months of heavy traffic are Sens. Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup, Rodney Tom, D-Medina, and Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch.
State government is in store for some important changes as a result of the bipartisan debate they helped inject into the legislative session. Key elements of the compromise include:
w Passage of a bill to bring some sanity to state pension benefits by increasing the penalty for state workers who opt for early retirement.
Workers who retire at age 55 after 30 years of service collect 80 percent of their pension under the current rules. The bill changes that to 50 percent. The estimated savings over 25 years is $1.3 billion.
w Passage of a much-amended version of a bill to consolidate teacher health insurance programs statewide.
The state teachers' union -- Washington Education Association -- waged an aggressive and mostly successful campaign against the measure.
However, the compromise bill ensures the idea stays in play for awhile longer at least. It's a promising proposal, despite union claims to the contrary. A closer look may prove its worth.
w Passage of a bill requiring the state to adopt a four-year balanced budget. The legislation will make it harder for legislators to kick the can into the next budget cycle to avoid needed but painful changes.
w Passage of a bill that rescinds Initiative 728, the voter-approved measure to reduce class sizes in public schools. Money to meet the provisions of the initiative has never been appropriated, but the projected costs show up as part of the state deficit every year.
Other elements of the budget deal are good for the state. Public schools and state universities and colleges escaped with far less damage than was feared.
Important capital projects survived the process, including the Wine Science Center at Washington State University Tri-Cities and two major rail projects in Pasco. All three are important to our community's economic future.
But we hope the longest-lasting legacy of this legislative session is the knowledge that compromise doesn't always mean losing.
It can also be a way to preserve the best ideas of both sides.