Today, Washington state stands at a crossroads. Our children are working harder than ever to meet strict academic standards, and then are...

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TODAY, Washington state stands at a crossroads.

Our children are working harder than ever to meet strict academic standards, and then are facing shrinking opportunities to continue their education in our colleges and universities.

Our economy is beginning to turn around, but many small businesses are still struggling to get off the ground.

Our research universities are helping to develop drugs that can dramatically improve the quality of our lives, but many of our children, our working families and our mentally ill citizens do not have access to health care.

Obviously, choices the Legislature makes this year will have a major impact on the education, health and economy of our state.

Our parents and grandparents made their choices: They sacrificed and worked hard to build a better future for us. And we mean build:

• At the end of the 19th century, they invested in new jobs by building land-grant universities on each side of our state, the University of Washington and Washington State University;

• During the Great Depression, they poured concrete and picked up hammers to create highways, bridges and buildings all around our state; and

• After World War II, they built local businesses like Boeing that continue to help our workers prosper today.

It’s our duty to continue making choices that make Washington a better place to live, work and raise a family — even when those choices are difficult. We think we must:

• Work together to improve our schools so every child — rich or poor, in the city or the country — gets the best possible education;

• Fight hard to provide our workers with the best jobs, the kind with health coverage and pensions;

• Increase access to health care for all the people of Washington; and

• Make government more accountable to the taxpayers.

Some say it’s too hard for our children to meet tough new education standards. They want us to weaken or abandon the statewide tests.

We believe that giving our children a world-class education is the only responsible choice. When our kids graduate from high school and college, they’ll be competing for jobs with workers around the globe.

That’s why we won’t weaken the tough new education standards and statewide tests.

That’s why we support the simple-majority concept for the passage of school bonds — and we trust the voters will agree with us when they mark their ballots in November.

And that’s why it’s wrong to tell 35,000 high-school students, “Sorry, there’s no room at our state colleges and universities.” Not one student should be denied the chance to earn a college degree, the surest ticket to the American Dream.

Some politicians and special-interest groups have made a habit out of talking trash about Washington state. That’s a job-killer, and it’s got to stop.

Telling the truth — that Washington is a great place to visit and do business — is a job-maker. Independent groups already rank Washington state as a top-five place to do business.

We can build on that by allowing small businesses to be part of a health-care program that the state currently runs for its employees and by expanding the Basic Health Plan to allow small businesses to purchase insurance for their employees.

Business leaders tell us they need a well-educated work force, and we support strong education reforms to give them that. They also agree with us that a statewide solution to our transportation problem would benefit not only our ports but our world-renowned products, such as apples and wine.

Modern medicine means modern prescription drugs. Yet three out of five seniors lack dependable coverage for the medicines they need to stay healthy and alive.

There’s a better way: We can use our buying power to save taxpayers and citizens big money on prescription drug medications.

Another reform long overdue is ending the outdated notion that health insurance covers the body only from the neck down. The brain is our most vital organ, and it’s far cheaper — and more compassionate — to make sure health insurance covers mental illnesses as well as physical ones.

Though the 2005 legislative session is only a month old, we have already taken steps to meet the agenda described here. Bills requiring performance audits of all state agencies, asking voters if they want school levies decided by a simple majority, and requiring mental-health parity in medical plans have been heard in committee and, in some cases, passed from one chamber to the other.

The citizens of Washington want us to be partners, not partisans. They put us all right here in the same boat, handed us oars and told us to row.

It’s a mistake for half of us to row in one direction and half in the other. We all want to make this state a better place to live, work and raise a family.

We’ve experienced our greatest successes when the governor and leaders from both political parties in the House and Senate rowed in the same direction. It happened when we passed the Patients’ Bill of Rights, the Nickel Transportation Plan and the reforms that got Boeing to build the 7E7 here in Washington.

It needs to happen this year on education, jobs and health care.

Building a better Washington won’t be easy. But nothing worth doing is.

Rep. Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, left, is speaker of the state House of Representatives. Sen. Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, right, is majority leader of the state Senate.