Dear Friends and Neighbors,
It wasn't an easy road, but after a special session in December, the 60-day regular session and another 31 days in special session, the Legislature finally broke through the one-party control in Olympia to close a $1 billion budget gap and adopt much-needed government reforms. After the bipartisan coalition in the Senate formed a philosophical majority, Republicans were brought to the negotiating table for the first time in many years and were instrumental in bringing forth common-sense solutions at each and every meeting. As a result, the budget includes many of our priorities of funding education, protecting our most vulnerable citizens and public safety. The final budget also does not include a sales tax increase, as proposed by the governor and Democrats, and it doesn't delay payments to schools or eliminate levy funds to rural school districts, as proposed in the House and Senate Democratic budgets.
In my last e-newsletter I talked a little about the budget compromise and the reforms tied to the budget. In an effort to reach a broader audience and to let more folks know what happened at the end of the special session(s), I sent the following OP-ED out to several 9th district newspapers:
Final budget solution includes reforms worth waiting for
Rep. Joe Schmick
After a 60-day regular session, a 30-day special session and a last minute 1-day special session extension, the 2012 Legislature finally arrived at a bipartisan compromise budget solution to our state's projected billion-dollar budget shortfall for the 2011-13 biennium.
While many of us in the Legislature – and much of the public as well – were frustrated at the slow pace of action, the meaningful reforms tied to the budget compromise will place Washington state on much firmer fiscal ground in the future and help the state get off the “budget rollercoaster” we've been on for the last few years.
The three main reforms that were ultimately part of the final “budget package” include:
Senate Bill 6378, which reduces some of the early retirement benefits from state employees hired after May 1, 2013. This reform is expected to save the state around $1.3 billion over the next 25 years.
Senate Bill 5940 proposes to study how to best address cost and equity in health benefit plans for all school employees. This legislation was put forward in response to a 2010 report by the State Auditor's Office in an effort to look at how the current health benefit plans for educators and administrators compare to those of classified school staff.
The goal with this proposal is to find a balanced approach by 2016 that creates cost and benefit equity among both certificated and non-certificated classified school employees. The end result should bring more transparency, equity and accountability to K-12 health benefit plans while ensuring tax dollars are spent wisely.
Senate Bill 6636 requires the Legislature to adopt a budget that is not only balanced for the current two-year budget cycle (as is required by current law) but extends that requirement out to the next two years as well. This will help hold legislators accountable for future spending and prevent the governor from signing budgets into law that she or he knows will be out of balance in a couple of years (as was the case when Gov. Gregoire signed the 2009-11 budget).
The final budget compromise also included no new cuts to K-12 and higher education. I feel this is critical as our local, educated workforce must be positioned to help lead us out of the current recession when companies begin expanding operations and employers begin hiring again in earnest.
I joined my House Republican colleagues earlier in the session in putting forth the first budget of the 2012 legislative session. Our proposal played a key role in setting the tone and tenor of the budget debate. Our priorities of funding education first, protecting public safety and the most vulnerable, and passing a budget with no general tax increases or budget gimmicks helped provide a framework that led to the final budget negotiations.
While I did support the final budget, I do have some concerns. The compromise budget includes only $319 million in reserves. Of which, about $238 million is one-time money found by changing how the state collects, stores and distributes sales and use tax dollars to local governments. I'm very concerned that this low reserve could be gobbled up by any decrease in our projected revenue collections.
If you recall, the Legislature passed a budget last year that left about $620 million in reserve. The day after the governor signed the bill into law, the new revenue forecast came out and nearly all of that money disappeared overnight. With several more revenue forecasts to go before the end of the two-year budget period, I would have preferred a much higher ending fund balance.
In the end, I felt the final budget represented a good compromise between philosophical ideals without representing a compromise in my priorities and principles. The reforms included in the budget are a good step in the right direction as we work to make Washington more fiscally sound for generations to come.
(Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, represents the 9th Legislative Distr
Let's get Washington working again!
If we are going to get people back to work, state government needs to become more collaborative and less punitive when working with job providers. We must reduce burdensome and costly regulations on employers, and ensure consistency and predictability so they have the confidence to hire new employees and retain those currently employed. The following job-creation measures are a few of the workable solutions we supported to provide momentum for economic recovery and enhanced revenue growth for Washington. Unfortunately the majority party failed to consider them.
• Suspend GMA requirements in counties with significant and persistent unemployment (House Bill 1592) – Alleviate the cost and bureaucracy of controlling growth when none is occurring and when those regulations stand in the way of badly needed economic development.
• Require permit decisions in 90 days (House Bill 1961) – Require agencies to make permit decisions in 90 days or it is granted. This would add certainty and eliminate unnecessary delays in permit decisions in order to significantly stimulate economic activity. Let's free up those who are ready to put people to work.
• Moratorium on rulemaking (House Bill 1156) – We support the governor's decision to suspend unnecessary rulemaking and would extend the moratorium for three years or until state revenue growth shows evidence of economic recovery.
• Reclassify hydropower as renewable energy (House Bill 1125) – When we sell our inexpensive hydro power to California, it qualifies as renewable. In Washington it does not. Let's recapture our state's competitive advantage of offering abundant, affordable clean energy for manufacturers and consumers.
Because of election year restrictions, this will be one of my last e-newsletter of the year. It has been my pleasure to keep you updated on what's been going on in Olympia and I hope you have found my e-newsletters informative and timely. I certainly don't want to clutter your inbox, but I do feel it is my duty as your elected official to keep you informed as much as possible.
Thanks again for the honor and privilege of serving you in the Legislature. Please feel free to contact me with any thoughts or concerns about state issues or if you need help wading through the bureaucracy of state government. Also, let me know if you'd like me to come speak to your local community group about the legislative session or other state government concerns.