2006 will be pivotal for several issues

Not a second too soon, the year draws to a close, and a new year beckons with its promise of interesting times.

South Kitsap may learn during 2006 whether a major speedway will be built here — and what the public’s share of the costs will be.

The short 2006 legislative session probably will not answer the questions, since there appears to be no legislator who is eager to step forward as the prime sponsor for the project.

Nevertheless, as the months pass there will be more information provided to the public and more lobbying of key government personnel, so we should have a good idea of the speedway’s prospects before the 2007 legislative session begins.

The financing proposal announced recently by International Speedway Corp.’s subsidiary, Great Western Sports, Inc., seems to be a good starting point for the coming discussions.

Roughly half the cost of constructing the speedway would be paid by GWS, and the cost of off-site infrastructure improvements to accommodate thousands of fans a few times a year would be the subject of further discussions.

The share paid by the government is supposed to come from taxes on admission tickets and sales taxes paid by fans who come from out of state — making it possible for proponents to argue that the cost will not be a tax burden placed on Washington residents.

It will be interesting to see whether this argument can overcome opposition to any government funding for the speedway’s construction.

One might reasonably be skeptical of the ability of GWS or the government to determine how much sales tax revenue actually comes from out-of-state fans.

One might also wonder whether economic development that does not add its proportionate share of revenue to the government’s tax collections is truly desirable. 

As now proposed, the additional sales tax revenue generated by the speedway would be used to pay for the speedway, not for other government purposes.

Of course, tax breaks to spur economic development and activity are not especially rare, so the question is whether this particular proposal has more going for it than against it.

During the coming year, we may also see whether a county commissioner can win a primary election after many of her avid supporters have been disenchanted by the decisions she has made in office.

The incumbent from the Central Kitsap district, Patty Lent, will face a contested primary election, now that Jack Hamilton has announced his candidacy.

While we in South Kitsap will not have a vote in the Central Kitsap district’s primary election, we may learn more about the candidates and their opinions on issues that matter.

We may think we know what it means to identify one’s self as a Republican when filing for elective office, but a contested primary election should make it possible to find out what the candidates meant when they declared their political party affiliation.

That is, it may be possible if the candidates will discuss and debate their differences of opinion regarding decisions which have already been made and any differences they may have about the principles they would apply in making future decisions.

It is naturally more interesting to have a choice among candidates, but it’s even more interesting to have candidates who make it worth one’s while to listen.

The new year will also put the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (the sometimes reviled and occasionally praised “WASL”) to its sternest test, when the class of 2008 takes the examination during their sophomore year.

If the sophomores, when playing for keeps, can do better than their predecessors — who did not need to pass the WASL to graduate — all will be well.

But if it’s true that a big percentage of high school students who would otherwise graduate cannot demonstrate that they have achieved at least a 10th-grade education, then we will see whether our legislators have the nerve to keep the WASL as a graduation requirement.

For too long, having a high school diploma has not meant that the diploma was earned by learning what a high school graduate ought to know.  Some graduates learned what they needed to know, some didn’t.

Perhaps our legislators will wait until the WASL results are published next year before panicking.

If the results are truly dismal, then the second half of 2006 should get really interesting as our government officials try to decide how to respond.

Whatever the response to dismal results, one ought to hope that something like the WASL remains a part of high school – whether or not it is a graduation requirement.

Even if passing it only results in a mark of some kind on the diploma, there would at least be a chance that the market can determine whether passing the WASL is a meaningful accomplishment.

Robert Meadows is a Port Orchard resident.


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