Dear Friends and Neighbors,
I want to thank all of you who attended my town halls last weekend. I always enjoy answering questions and explaining my votes on various bills. We may not always agree on everything, but I appreciate hearing your perspective and the chance to explain mine.
In the last week, we have seen two operating budget proposals to balance the $1.5 billion shortfall: one from House Republicans (sponsored by our budget lead Rep. Gary Alexander) on Feb. 17 and another from House Democrats on Feb. 21.
I'm pleased House Republicans showed the Legislature, and the state, how our budget can be balanced without a state sales tax increase, by focusing on the core priorities of the state. Specifically, we focused funding on education, public safety, and caring for the most vulnerable. Unfortunately over the years the definition of “most vulnerable” has been expanded to care for so many that funding is spread too thin. Our budget prioritizes care for those who cannot help themselves through no fault of their own: children in poverty, seniors in long-term care, people with developmental disabilities and mental health patients. This focus allowed us to reduce funding to all other areas of the budget which are not core functions of government. In total, our budget proposal reduces government spending by $817 million and leaves $625 million in reserves. Sustainable budgeting means having the fiscal discipline to make permanent changes to spending and setting aside some money for emergencies. I believe this budget is responsible and something I could support.
One of my greatest disappointments with the House Democrats' proposal is that it relies heavily on gimmicks. They propose to delay or shift payments to school districts and levy equalization funds into the next biennial budget, in order to “save” $405 million. It's not fair to schools, many of whom are struggling to get by as it is. The Seattle Times summed up the Democrat budget this way: Accounting gimmick is big part of state House budget moves. Yesterday, one of the House Democrats was quoted as interpreting this education payment shift as “more like a very responsible family deciding to just make the minimum payment on a credit card for one month rather than paying the whole balance down every month.” (The Stranger, Feb. 23) Treating the schools budget like a credit card is wrong and budget trickery is something I have no respect for, and I have heard the same thing from the public.
While the Democrats' proposal would not increase the state sales tax, it would push the burden on to local governments by giving cities and counties authority to raise taxes without a vote of the people. The News Tribune explained it like this: Democrats' budget proposal would shift costs to cities, counties. This is another gimmick, this time to get around the two-thirds vote requirement of the Legislature to increase taxes. In the same Stranger article noted above, it states, “If poor conservative areas of Washington State want to slash state services because they don't like Big Guvmint, then let them realize how much they actually depend on the services of Big Guvmint, and how much those services are actually subsidized by the wealthy areas of the state they claim to hate.” This is an accurate representation of the urban-rural divide we see in the Legislature every day, and it is very disconcerting.
The House Democrats also propose keeping large entitlement programs on life support. We just cannot afford this any longer. As a result, their budget would reduce spending just $477 million and leave $504 million in reserves. Of course the late payment of $405 million makes a mockery of this reserve.
Having said all of this, I'm still proud to work in Olympia with passionate, intelligent and thoughtful people. Though the discussions about the budget highlight the partisan divide as we come from very different beliefs about the role of government, we do work together. There are no government shutdowns in Olympia, and we all respect each other. Our end goal, Democrats and Republicans, is to balance the budget. However, I believe the Republican proposal goes farther to solving our budget problem beyond just this year.
Civics Educator of the Year
This week, I was proud to welcome Ed Bergh, Jr. from Yelm Community Schools to Olympia as he was honored as the Washington State Legislative Civic Educator of the Year. Mr. Bergh has dedicated the last 38 years of his life to the students of Yelm High School, teaching American Government, Current World Problems, Advanced Placement American Politics and Government. His students have included myself, my brother and my cousins, as well as my own three children. Mr. Bergh excels at engaging students in a lifelong interest in the working of their world and especially their government. He convinces them of the importance of personal involvement and even keeps a stack of voter registration cards in his classroom. Last year, Mr. Bergh had three former students running for public office in one
election season, including me. This is a direct reflection on his teaching – he gets students involved and teaches them to be lifelong learners of their government.
There are less than two weeks remaining in this session, but I'm hopeful we can complete our work on time. There is no reason we can't adopt the budget before March 8. Unfortunately, a good part of the first half of session was spent on non-budget related policy changes.
Please feel free to contact my office anytime. I would appreciate hearing what you think about the budgets I presented in this letter, and if you would share this information with your friends, family and neighbors. As Mr. Bergh taught me, we are all responsible for making government “of the people.”
It's an honor and privilege to serve you.