Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Last week was budget week in the legislature as both the house and senate revealed their spending plans for the next year, including their proposals for dealing with our state's $2.7 billion budget hole.
I have to tell you, what I'm seeing from budget writers this year is unfortunately very similar to last year's failed policies.
When dealing with a $9 billion budget hole last year, Democrat budget writers used one-time bailout money from the feds, they swept money from other dedicated accounts – like the capital budget, and failed to implement any type of government reform to increase efficiencies.
Last year's budget solution was a Band-Aid covering the larger problem of a state government that has grown too big, too fast – by almost 40% since 2006!
Sadly, this year's budget solution takes the same shortsighted and unsustainable approach. The difference this year, however, is that Democrats will raise your taxes as part of their plan.
The governor wants to tax bottled water, candy and gum, soda and cigarettes. And, she wants to increase the tax on oil products which will increase the price we all pay at the gas pump! I can just imagine the burden this is going to place on our small mom-and-pop convenience stores as more people go across state lines or to the reservations for their purchases.
The Senate wants to increase the state sales tax and get rid of what they call “tax loopholes.” I call them tax incentives. We live in a global economy where our state and our employers are competing with others around the world. Many of these incentives were put in place to help attract employers to our state – to help create jobs!
In our district, the unemployment rate is near an all-time high. This is not the time to be implementing policies that will hurt our employers and our economy.
I want you to know that we have offered around $750 million in budget efficiencies to the majority party. These include reforms that will have a long-lasting effect on the budget – making it more sustainable in future years. We also told them we'd come to the table back in December to get started on a solution to our budget problem so that we could take advantage of further savings through early implementation.
We were – and continue to be – ignored.
I believe that – just like families – state government needs to start thinking outside the box. We can't go on with “business as usual” and expect different results. I believe that you, the public, expect your elected officials to exhaust every option – to look at every item in state government – before coming to you for more taxes. And yet, for all the talk about budget cuts, a closer look at the House budget shows a total reduction of only of 2,990 FTE's out of over 100,000 state employees. Of this number, 2,243 come from higher education. DSHS, the largest agency in the state, has only 713 FTE reductions. Like that old commercial used to say, “Where's the Beef?!”
I also believe state government needs to set clear priorities through the priorities of government process. Things like education, public safety, protecting our most vulnerable – and then we need to fund those things first. We need to have a ground-up approach to budgeting.
I believe the legislature needs to reduce the footprint of government through efficiencies and reform, before taking more of your money. We need to build back trust and transparency in our budget process – and that's what I'm working towards in Olympia.
It's been good visiting with those of you who have made it over to Olympia this session. It's always nice to see some familiar faces from back home. This week, I had the privilege of hosting Kurt Moore from Lacrosse as a Legislative Page. Kurt did a great job and I know he learned a lot about the legislative process. Thanks, Kurt!
I welcome your comments and suggestions as we enter the last couple weeks of session.