Dear Friends and Neighbors,
While we continue to seek solutions to our state's projected budget shortfall it is important to keep in mind that state revenues are on pace to grow 6.9 percent more than the last biennium. I wonder how many families in the 9th District and across the state would love to have 6.9 percent added to their family budgets this year.
For this, and many other reasons, I simply cannot support a sales tax increase right now. As I said in last week's e-newsletter, I believe tax increases should be the option of last resort instead of the first proposal out of the gates. I don't believe the solution to our state's budget problem involves taking more money from those who have less. In my opinion, we don't need more taxes; we need more taxpayers. Part of the solution must involve implementing policies that help the private sector create jobs. When families are working again, the state will see more revenue for the services people want.
Also, as soon as the words “tax increase” are on the table, all thought and effort towards reforming state government go out the window. We haven't set clear priorities of government or defined what core government services are. Until we do these things – prioritized government spending and made true government reforms – tax increases should not be part of the discussion.
As an example, here are a couple of ways the governor's budget has failed to reasonably prioritize spending:
- It cuts funding for senior citizen services by 20 percent while cutting the Department of Ecology total budget by only 4.4 percent.
- It fully funds $11.5 million for state employee step salary increases while cutting $9.2 million from state employment and day services for the developmentally disabled.
- It continues to fund $476,000 for sick-leave cash payments to state employees while cutting $450,000 from funding for the Family Policy Council that supports at-risk youth and families.
- It provides $15.3 million to fully funds a recent initiative (I-1163) that everyone, including the governor herself, has said the state cannot afford while cutting eligibility for certain disability and long-term care services by $14.6 million.
- It maintains 90 percent of funding for the State Energy Policy/Research Office while cutting services for domestic violence legal advocacy and crime victims services by 20 percent.
- It cuts funding to critical access hospitals by $27 million while spending $37 million on health care services for children who are not in this country legally.
The first day I walked into Olympia after the voters of the 9th Legislative District elected me, I said my priorities would be education, public safety and protecting the truly vulnerable among us. Those priorities haven't changed from day one. In fact, they are more important now than ever!
And, while I don't support a tax increase, I am willing to look at new sources of revenue. If there are tax incentives out there that have outlived their usefulness or are not helping to produce the economic activity that they once were, we should look at eliminating those things. We should also be looking at the monopoly that Indian tribes have on electronic gaming machines. Our initial analysis shows the state could see an increase of around $380 million per biennium if card rooms were given the opportunity to install electronic scratch ticket machines in their establishments. Plus, this proposal would actually create jobs, spurring further economic growth in our local communities.
Where's the urgency? – while majority party wastes time, House Republicans work through lengthy and detailed Priorities of Government (POG) process
The governor expects – and rightly so – the Legislature to pass a supplemental budget during the 30-day special session to address our state's projected $2 billion shortfall. Yet majority party leaders and budget writers have all but thrown in the towel. They have publicly said they can't do this in the time allotted (even though we've known about our budget shortfall AND the special session for MONTHS!) and are now just running out the clock with a depressing but effective strategy of stalling, procrastinating and excuses. The governor's office recently sent a letter to legislators pleading for quick action (click here to read the Seattle Times story).
With some of this extra time on our hands, House Republicans are going through the very detailed, very lengthy Priorities of Government process. The POG process was used by Gov. Gary Locke and former Sen. Dino Rossi to get our state through some tough fiscal times several years ago. The process was groundbreaking and won several national public policy awards. It places all government activity into three categories: high priority, medium priority, and low priority. This helps policy makers get through the special interest noise and the emotional connection to pet programs. It's a way to prioritize spending, just like many families and employers around the state have to do.
Costs related to protests on Capitol Campus
As you have likely read in the papers and seen on the news, the first week was a bit crazy with protestors interrupting hearings, attempting to camp in the rotunda and disruptive behavior. The “Occupy” groups that converged on Olympia are protesting the governor's budget that includes spending adjustments to align with state tax collections, which are projected to be 6.9 percent higher than the 2009-11 budget, or nearly $2 billion more. Because of the behavior of some of the protestors and the encampment at Heritage Park at Capitol Lake near the dome, there has been extra state patrol and work at the park to address the group. Here are the costs as of Sunday, Dec. 4:
Washington State Patrol:
- $27,000 – Travel, per diem, supplies, etc.;
- $146,000 in overtime; and
- $201,000 in straight time (or salaries the troopers would have been paid for their regular work).
Heritage Park (run by the Washington State Department of Enterprise Services or DES):
- $3,810.93 – Costs for plumbing repairs, some electrical work and other miscellaneous repairs to turf, etc.; and
- $1,037.40 – Trash collection and park clean-up.
The DES spokesman told us the cost estimate to repair the damage to the new turf at Heritage Park, which was installed two years ago, cannot be determined until the “Occupy” group has left the park. At this point, the group has refused to pay for a permit to use the park, so taxpayers are footing the bill not only for security at the Capitol Campus, but also to take care of the non-permitted encampment.
It should be pointed out that every taxpayer dollar spent on these protests is a dollar that could pay for services for disabled and elderly citizens, school children and protecting our communities.
I'll continue to update you throughout the special session and into next year's regular session. Again, thank you for the opportunity and privilege of serving you in Olympia.