Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Summer is winding down. I hope you had a chance to enjoy it. I know the economy has impacted many, but I hope you and/or your family had a chance to get out and enjoy our great state and the number of beautiful places to visit or vacation in Washington or get away for some rest and relaxation.
Today, I just want to provide you a brief update on our state's financial situation, our employment outlook, make you aware of an opportunity to support our veterans, and touch on the redistricting process.
Budget and Economy
The sluggish economy continues to impact our forecasted revenues. In June, Gov. Chris Gregoire signed the operating budget with a total reserve of $745 million. The day after the budget was signed, the June revenue forecast reduced the reserve by almost $600 million to about $163 million. Since then, revenue collections continue to come in lower than projected and the shortfall is expected to be significant when the September 15, 2011 economic forecast is announced. Peter Callaghan's blog post in the Tacoma News Tribune gives us a preview of what to expect: “Preliminary September economic forecast for Washington state is depressing, as expected.” You can find more information on the Economic and Revenue Forecast Council website.
The governor has been working to get ahead of the situation. A few weeks ago she requested all state agencies to submit proposals for budget reductions of up to 10 percent. The Seattle Times explains more here. We expect to see the agency reduction options after the Sept. 15 revenue forecast. It is important to understand this process. The governor is authorized to make across-the-board spending cuts without legislative action, but if a program or service is required by statute, the governor cannot eliminate it without the approval of the Legislature or legislative action. I point this out because it may be difficult for the governor's across-the-board approach to reduce the budget in a sustainable and fiscally responsible manner. Not all agencies may need to be cut the same percentage and some programs should be prioritized higher than others.
Unfortunately, that means a special session may need to be called so the Legislature can make more informed decisions and budget adjustments with more precision. After the revenue forecast we should have a much clearer picture on if or when we will be called into special session.
Despite the revenue shortfalls, the state is still expected to collect $3.5 billion more in the current biennium than the last one. That indicates our government is still spending too much money and we need to shift our attention to the programs and agencies that are currently not a priority or are ineffective and act as a drain on our budget.
Jobs and Employment
Our job market has been much weaker than expected. The state economy added 6,800 new jobs in June and July, but the forecast was for about 9,200. Almost all of the manufacturing jobs added in that period came from aerospace. The construction industry continues to struggle. Employment in that sector remains fairly flat. The service sector accounts for two-thirds of the jobs in Washington, but they only added 3,500 net new jobs while 10,600 was expected. Obviously, the economic situation will impact our employment numbers. I don't think anyone expected it to be so dire for so long.
We need government to quit spending so much money and give the private sector the tools they need to rebound. Our state must be more conducive to job growth and opportunity for private sector employers to grow and prosper. There is uncertainty and a lack of stability surrounding our industries, businesses and employers. When businesses prosper, people are working and revenue is generated to pay for schools, public safety and other important services. Job growth and economic recovery can only happen when employers feel confident to invest and expand. Successful businesses are hiring people and are generating revenue that will pay for schools and important services in our communities.
As you know, I am a strong supporter of veterans issues. I wanted to make you aware of an opportunity to support those serving our great country. During the legislative session we passed House Bill 5806, which authorized a statewide raffle to benefit veterans. It is called the Hometown Heroes Raffle and it supports our veterans in Washington. Ticket sales began Sept. 5 and run through Nov. 10 with the drawing held on Veterans' Day. The proceeds from the raffle go directly to the Washington State Veterans Innovations Program (VIP).
I serve on the Washington State Joint Committee on Veterans' and Military Affairs. We study and explore veterans' and military issues. This committee provides an opportunity for concepts and ideas to be introduced, and in turn, we can make recommendations to the Legislature. If you have any ideas or concerns please let me know. It is important to me that we look after those who serve our country and protect us and the freedoms we enjoy today. We are the “Land of the Free, because of the Brave.”
September 15 is not only the day the revenue forecast comes out, but it is the first day we will be able to view the proposed maps from the Washington State Redistricting Commission. The Commission must present new legislative and congressional district boundaries for the 49 legislative districts and congressional districts to the Legislature for approval during the 2012 legislative session. These will be the first drafts, four different map proposals for the legislative districts and four different maps for the congressional districts. I urge you to check them out. There will likely be substantial changes, particularly to the congressional maps since we are adding a congressional district. The 8th Legislative District is projected to lose about 12,000 people because our population increased by almost 30,000 people. The new boundaries will be in effect for the 2012 elections and thereafter. Washington State's legislative and congressional district boundaries are redrawn every 10 years following the United States Census.
Keep in touch
We are at a critical time for the future of our state. Your thoughts and opinions are important to me as we move Washington forward. Please contact me if you have any questions or concerns, or if my office can be of any assistance to you.
Have a great Washington Day! I love you all!