Dear Friends and Neighbors,
We are now into the 26th day of the constitutionally-allowed 30-day special session. All the members were called back into town on Wednesday for committee hearings and floor action. At the moment I write this, it appears the budget is stalled. Of course, that can change at any moment!
The greatest contention is not with the dollars – but with the desire from the philosophical majority in the Senate (22 Republicans and 3 Democrats) to truly address the problems that keep the Legislature returning year after year with deficits. House Republicans agree we must make serious policy changes to create a sustainable budget. What we really want are reforms that mean we no longer start every session with a deficit. We showed how it can be done with our budget proposal released in February. The Seattle Times yesterday agreed the reforms on the table are reasonable and should be passed: State legislators must reform in full.
People have asked me why budget writers just can't agree? I think we are in the middle of something not seen in Olympia for many years – an effort to break away from the control of special interests. The reality is that one party has controlled our government for at least ten years. They have focused on appeasing their special interests – leading to a bloated bureaucracy and unsustainable policies that leave them with budget promises that can no longer be kept. Now with an economic reality and past budget decisions catching up, I think some in the majority party see that the state simply cannot be everything to everyone. The three Democrats in the Senate who broke with their party to vote on a bipartisan budget wrote that they are tired of the gimmicks and recognized it is time for a sustainable budget: Fixing state budget requires action in the state's best interest, not the special interest (Sens. Jim Kastama, Rodne Tom and Tim Sheldon/Seattle Times, March 6).
In a way, it seems we are watching a slow-moving divorce between the majority party and several special interests, with the state budget caught in the middle, and all the bitterness and collateral damage that divorce implies. It remains to be seen if the House will even be allowed to vote on any true reform bills, whether or not there are enough votes on both sides of the aisle. The Seattle Times shared this sentiment when it editorialized: House Democrats must embrace reforms for sustainable path (March 30).
On Thursday, we voted on a “new” budget proposal. I suspect this was simply a method for House Democrats to put their final offer on the table. I voted “no.” Whether we can pass an agreed-upon budget by Tuesday, the 30th day of the special session, remains to be seen. The good news is all four caucuses, including our House Republican budget leader Rep. Gary Alexander, have been and continue meeting daily (sometimes more often) with the governor's office to find an agreement to prevent the 6th special session in two years.
While I am not in active budget negotiations (and as such have not requested to receive per diem), my budget principles remain the same. We must balance the budget without taxes and in a way that creates sustainability for future years, not continued deficits. When my caucus introduced the first budget proposal in February, we did so without gimmicks and with permanent reforms while protecting education, public safety and the most vulnerable in our communities. Those goal are what I will continue to look for when a final budget proposal is before me.
As always, I appreciate hearing from you. It's an honor to represent you in Olympia.