Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The special session came and went in just 17 days, and while there was minor movement on the budget (which I voted for), we did not accomplish the goal of balancing the $2 billion shortfall. I'm disappointed we spent taxpayer dollars to hold a special session without completing the task set before us. Unfortunately, the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee and the Speaker of the House have control over the agenda and the ideas that move forward. I'm disappointed we did not have the opportunity to vote on major reforms of state government in this session. I did, however, vote for amendments to the budget bill in Ways and Means that would have reduced spending further. Unfortunately, those amendments failed in favor of moving forward with only the easiest budget decisions. Much tougher decisions will have to be faced in the regular session that begins in early January.
While we waited for floor action, my Republican colleagues and I began an exercise we will continue in the regular session to match up core values with Priorities of Government. Part of this work was based on the budget research I did this summer and have shared with you in previous newsletters. We have already found redundancies, waste and activities prioritized higher than they should be. I hope to share specifics with you in the weeks ahead.
Last week, a constituent in Roy e-mailed me asking why there are now nine Fish and Wildlife commissioners, when there used to be three and the state functioned just as effectively. The answer is that the commissioners are elected to represent every part of our state while serving both fish and wildlife interests. The cost difference between three commissioners and nine is not large. Commissioners are paid $100 for only the days they work, typically two or three days a month, and their travel expenses within the state are also covered.
Along those lines, if you have questions you want me to ask of state agencies or officials, let me know! The best moments in committee hearings are when I pose a tough question to a state policy maker that originated with a constituent. I think it is our duty to ask questions of those in leadership positions and those deciding how tax dollars are spent, including myself.
In a recent example, officials with Department of Fish and Wildlife testified in the House Ways and Means Committee that the agency needed additional fees because of their budget cuts. Having recently studied their budget, I asked them, “Isn't your budget up over $40 million from the previous biennium?” The response I received was something along the lines of “I'm not a budget person.” Like many of you, I'm outraged by the casual misleading statements often made on budget issues by government officials.
State funding (GF-S) has decreased some, yes. However, the agency has seen increases recently in dollars received from the State Wildlife account, which includes licensing fees, and from the “other” category, which includes federal, local and private funding. The huge jump in the agency's budget from 2009-11 to 2011-13 is a concern to me, especially when outdoors people and conservationists in our district are being asked for additional fees to keep parks and trails open and protected. As I have said in previous e-mails, we must look at the whole picture of funding to state programs before there are claims made that fees must be increased in order to pay for the continuation of services. To see similar budget trends for other natural resource agencies, click here. (Note: This information was put together by the nonpartisan Office of Program Research in the House.)
Our 2nd District is home to great outdoor opportunities: Elbe State Forest, Harts Lake (photo at right my wife Kathy took from our home), the Nisqually River, Mt. Rainier and much more. We have many people who hunt, fish, camp, hike and more, and want to continue enjoying our beautiful outdoors. It is important to manage public lands in a way that is responsible and protects these resources for generations to come. However, it is equally as important we ensure these lands are available for all of us to enjoy. The state should not abuse the well-meaning attitude of outdoors people in order to protect bureaucracy.
As always, I welcome your feedback, ideas and questions. It is an honor to serve you.