By Laura Pierce
For freshman Sen. Joe Fain (R-Auburn, representing the 47th District, including Kent), Olympia has been all about a learning curve.
As the ranking minority member on the Senate Transportation Committee and a member of the Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee, that’s not to imply he’s been sitting around, though.
Not by a long shot.
“It’s been a tremendous amount of work to take the time to make sure I’m being effective,” said Fain, who starts most of his work days at 7 a.m., and goes home by 10:30 or 11 p.m. each night.
“You get exposed to a tremendous amount of information and a great number of opinions and views.”
Fain is putting his aggressive mode of seeking information and relationship-building to the test, – especially now that so much of it pertains to trimming programs, so that a balanced budget can be crafted.
Fain calls his ranking-minority member status on the Transportation Committee “a great position because it allows me to be in the room with the ranking majority leader and vice chairperson through the budget-development process.”
In keeping with a promise he made earlier during his campaign, Fain is asking for an in-depth look at the state’s transportation departments, including more reports, charts and graphs to absorb. By fully understanding how the state’s various transportation agencies work, he said, that is the most informed and responsible way that inevitable cutbacks can be made, and programs saved.
“I don’t feel the budget process in the past has been as responsive to individual outputs,” Fain said. “By digging deeper, I’m hoping we’ll be better-equipped to make decisions.
“It makes the process longer; it makes the hours move more slowly, but that is precisely the type of work the public sent me here to do.”
Fain also has directed his staff to revisit the results of a survey that the Republican caucus undertook.
“Several months ago, a call went out from the Senate Republican caucus, asking ‘what can we do to make your jobs more efficient?’” Fain said. “It turned out we had about 400 recommendations. I directed staff to go through them. Our state employees are on the ground, and they have a view of where these public deficiencies are. I want to hear when they had a good experience with the state, and a bad experience.”
The idea, Fain added, was to let state employees show legislators how and where things can be improved - especially as it pertains to often-costly state transportation issues.
“I recognize there are probably a great number of transportation employees,” Fain said of the respondents. “I didn’t want that great institutional knowledge to go to waste.”
Fain noted the education committee also has its work cut out for it, given the economy and the dependence of Washington’s school districts on state funding resources. But he’s sensing a real move afoot by legislators on both sides of the aisle who are determined not to do business in the same old way.
“I just see a very reform-minded block of elected officials emerging who are less inclined to do business as usual,” he said, adding, “there have been some interesting proposals brought up that are moving through the (bill) process that might empower the local districts, allowing more flexibility with their funding.”
Fain said a key element to local schools is levy-equalization funding - the state’s formula for shoring up the difference between school districts in areas where property values are high, and in others where the property assessments are lower.
Calling the state’s current levy-equalization formula “archaic,” Fain said it’s nonetheless a critical means in keeping local school districts here on pace with districts in the state’s more affluent areas.
“In the short run I’m very opposed to allowing those ...dollars to dry up because our schools are dependent on those dollars,” Fain said. “No kid get his fourth-grade year back and I don’t want to use the economy as an excuse for why we don’t fund K-4 education.”