The Legislature adjourned its special session last Wednesday after 17 days in which very little was accomplished to address a $2 billion budget shortfall — which was the reason the governor called lawmakers back to Olympia on Nov. 28. The editorial board at the Kitsap Sun in Bremerton best described the inaction as this: “Lawmakers picked the low-hanging fruit in finding more than $400 million in savings — it's just not right to call all of it 'cuts' — but that's far short of the governor's request for $1.4 billion in budget reductions.” The Spokesman-Review said: “The prevailing attitude of leadership would appear to be: Why do today what we can put off until next month?”
A matter of priorities
My House Republican colleagues and I have a plan in hand, ready to advance, that would balance the state budget by making spending priorities on the core functions of government, with our top priorities identified as: funding education first, ensuring public safety, and protecting our state's most vulnerable citizens. Unfortunately, majority Democrats have continued to reject our plan for the same old failed spending policies of the past that contributed to this budget crisis. Instead of using the special session as an opportunity to balance the budget and provide reforms that would create private sector jobs, the majority party is once again kicking the can down the road until the regular session begins in January, providing only a small portion of savings — $480 million – as a partial solution against the $2 billion shortfall.
I voted for House Bill 2058 that will enact the reductions – only because a partial solution is better than no solution at all. However, I'm very disappointed that the Legislature will wait until the regular session begins Jan. 9 – and even more likely delay until the next revenue forecast on Feb. 16 – before any decisive action is taken to reduce spending. Under the current budget, Washington spends more than $41 million a day. The longer the Legislature waits to take action, the more painful it will be to reduce the budget.
Tax increase avoided – for now
If there is a bright spot of the special session, it is the Legislature did not advance a half-billion dollar state sales tax increase to the March ballot, as Gov. Gregoire had requested. However, I don't believe taxpayers have fully dodged that bullet quite yet. Democrats in the Legislature are seeking every way possible to find revenue so they can continue their level of spending without implementing budget reforms. A case in point: Last Tuesday, they brought a measure to the House floor – Senate Joint Memorial 8009 – that asks the president and Congress to adopt legislation clearing the way for states to collect taxes on products sold over the Internet by out-of-state sellers. I voted against this tax increase proposition. I expect the governor's state sales tax increase proposal will be forthcoming in the regular session, along with other legislation to eliminate tax incentives and the jobs they create.
Revenue is UP!
An inescapable fact remains that the majority party doesn't want you to know about: Washington state will collect nearly $2 billion MORE in this budget cycle than the previous one. The state doesn't need to be shaking down taxpayers for more money when it has yet to find every efficiency and eliminate every tidbit of wasteful spending. I believe it is shameful the governor is saying she will cut education by at least $411 million unless she gets her sales tax increase, yet the Department of Ecology's total operating budget is UP by 10 percent, Parks and Recreation's spending is UP by 12.2 percent, and Fish and Wildlife's budget is UP a whopping 14.8 percent. When did fish become more important than our kids?
Has Washington cut the budget by $10.5 billion? Hardly! (Associated Press headline)
Fox News recently said the governor's assertion that she cut $10.5 billion in the budget is a fallacy (Read the story here):
“Politicians tend to define spending cuts differently than everybody else. For many people, a spending cut is when they look at their finances and, because there's less money coming in than last year, decide what they can do without. The result is less spending. But to lawmakers, a spending cut is often a reduction to the amount of spending growth that had been anticipated. This mindset helps to explain why in state governments across the country, budgets are increasing despite vows to cut spending.
“Take Washington state. Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire recently called on the state Legislature to approve a referendum asking voters to pass a half-cent increase to the sales tax – in order to avoid $2 billion in new spending cuts. Gregoire said the state had already cut $10.5 billion since the recession began in 2008. However, not only did state spending NOT go down by $10.5 billion – it actually went UP $2 billion.”
Let's get Washington working again!
The ultimate solution to our state's budget crisis is creation of private sector jobs. Instead of tax increases, we need policies in the Legislature that will unleash the entrepreneurial spirit of private-sector job creators. When people are working, they spend money, which in turn helps to provide the funding for the core services of state government in the budget. We need to grow jobs, NOT government! That means adopting a supplemental state budget with the CORRECT PRIORITIES and WITHOUT tax increases.
Merry Christmas to all
As I look back over the year, I'm reminded of the blessings we have in this great state of Washington. I want to thank you for giving me this great honor to serve you. May you and your family have a wonderful and Merry Christmas!