Dear Friends and Neighbors,
After 17 days the Legislature adjourned the special session on Wednesday, Dec. 14. I am disappointed we did not balance the state's $2 billion budget shortfall. It made some cuts, but I did not vote to support the partial budget solution. We have once again put off making the difficult decisions and will apparently have a $1.5 billion budget shortfall still waiting for us when we return for the 2012 regular session.
The proposed budget fix uses the same gimmicks the majority party has used in the past. It uses fund transfers and sweeps funds from accounts and agencies that are practicing fiscal responsibility. Not only are we unable to show strong, fiscal stewardship with the state operating budget, but we are punishing those who are managing their money correctly.
The most frustrating part is the lack of a sense of urgency. On Sept. 22, the governor announced she would be calling for the special session to begin on Nov. 28, so budget writers and party leaders would have more than two months to prepare and work on solutions. In fact, the reality is, we knew after the June revenue forecast our budget was unsustainable. Yet, we adjourned in less than three weeks with no significant reforms and only a quarter of the shortfall addressed.
During the special session the House Republican caucus started working through a lengthy and detailed process called Priorities of Government (POG). We feel this approach needs to be used as a standard in the budget. This would help outline our priorities; education, public safety and protecting our most vulnerable. It also allows us to look at the role of government and whether or not we are funding programs and services outside of its core functions.
Capitol Campus protest costs
The first week of the special session protesters disrupted hearings and attempted to camp in the rotunda. I value everyone's right to freedom of speech, and have their voice heard. However, the protests did get a little out of control. Some Washington State Patrolmen were injured and arrests were made. 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. Here are cost estimates as of last week:
Washington State Patrol:
- $27,000 in 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 Occupy group has moved out of Heritage Park. We may have additional costs to fix the turf and any additional damage in the near future. 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.
Jobs and the economy
Obviously the budget will be the focal point of the regular session, but we must also focus on jobs and the economy. It is vital we improve our business climate so it is more conducive to growth, economic prosperity, and job creation in the private sector. When we get more people working and our employers have stability and certainty in the economy it will start to turnaround. This in turn will help generate funds for the state operating budget. Do you realize we are expected to bring in an additional $2 billion in tax collections this biennium compared to 2009-11? That is an increase of 7 percent. Increasing taxes is not an appropriate action.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays
While our state budget situation is troubling, we have a lot to be thankful for in our great state. Washington may have the most diverse landscape in the country and an economy to match. We are truly blessed to be in such a beautiful state. I look forward to 2012 and making it an even greater place to live with such great prosperity potential.
I want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! I hope you have the opportunity to spend much quality time with family and friends.
Thank you for allowing me the great honor to serve you. God bless you one and all!