Democrats in the state Senate made a smart choice by making Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, their top budget writer. Her deep knowledge of school finance and education policy is sorely needed.
Democrats, fresh off a state Senate win that gives them full control of Washington’s Legislature, now must prove they can govern. They took a promising first step by naming state Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, as the Senate’s lead budget writer.
Chairing the budget-writing Ways and Means Committee — one of the most powerful positions at the capitol — requires clear ideas and vision, but also the pragmatism to work across the aisle to get things done. Rolfes excels in these areas.
Her appointment also puts a woman in the driver’s seat in crafting the state budget — a $43.7 billion two-year spending plan — for the first time in seven years. Combined with Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island, becoming Senate majority leader and state Rep. Kris Lytton, D-Anacortes, leading the House Finance Committee, the move ensures a balance of men and women at the table during budget negotiations.
Rolfes has distinguished herself over the years, working to meet the state’s obligations to fully fund public schools. Since 2015, she has lent her name to several serious proposals aimed at reducing the state’s reliance on local school-district levies, the most complicated part of the state Supreme Court’s 2012 McCleary decision.
“She does the hard work associated with really understanding policy and the implications of it,” said Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier, a former Republican legislator who worked with Rolfes on education issues.
Rolfes’ knowledge of public-school finance and education policy is needed now more than ever. Last week, the high court ruled lawmakers have more work to do to comply with the McCleary ruling, saying the state is not on track to fully fund education by September. As one of the eight lawmakers who helped develop last year’s McCleary solution, Rolfes is especially qualified to craft a budget responding to the court’s latest order.
Rolfes has said she favors more progressive methods of raising money for schools, such as a capital-gains tax. But when her preferred solutions stalled in the Senate, she sat down with Republicans to search for common ground.
That approach has earned her the respect of Democrats and Republicans alike, said Sen. Joe Fain of Auburn, the Senate Republican floor leader. “She has credibility across the ideological spectrum,” Fain said.
“Liberals have confidence she won’t completely abandon her principles … but she’s also not a stone thrower.”
Naming her as chief budget writer was a good step that suggests Democrats in Olympia may be truly interested in finding solutions to complex problems next year — not just in scoring political points leading up to the 2018 election.