Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Happy New Year!
This week, the Legislature convened for a 60-day session. This will be my 6th regular session and I still feel like it is a privilege to serve the people of the district where I've lived my whole life. Sharon, my Legislative Assistant, and I are excited to get back to work on behalf of the 2nd District and work hard on issues that are important to the people who live in our small towns and rural areas.
As in years past, I will continue to share video updates with you throughout the session. In my first video update this year, I discuss the governor's State of the State speech and my concerns about his agenda for 2016. You can watch it here.
Looking at the governor's agenda
The governor's priorities include assisting with wildfire recovery, improving mental health services, addressing education funding, and investigating the early release of more than 3,000 felons from state prisons. I agree that these are important priorities, but I also know passing bills and a budget is the easy part. People who live in the real world know that creating effective performance plans, and then working right down at the ground level to execute the plans effectively is far harder, and in the end, more important. This is also where the governor and his staff have struggled the most.
The governor laid out a supplemental spending plan that relies on recycled tax increases from the past and tapping reserve accounts in order to balance. He proposed a $700 million supplemental budget which includes nearly $200 million in spending on new policies. This new spending would create an $800 million shortfall in the 2017-19 budget. The legislature is committed to budgets that balance over four years. The governor's doesn't do that.
I've always said that raising taxes should be a last resort, not the first choice. I'm not afraid of closing loopholes, and I've voted to do that in the past, but only when it solves problems and never as a first resort to simply increase the size of government.
Recovering from historic wildfires
I am very concerned about how we will address last year's devastating wildfires. The worst fire season in generations is a warning that we need to focus on prevention by improving forest management practices. I've tried to use my own experience as a forest land owner to secure funding for better forest management practices, which would create healthy forests and provide economic opportunity for rural communities, but the majority party was more interested in urban needs.
This year, nearly $200 million will be spent to pay for last year's fires. We need to prioritize prevention in order to save lives, property and tax dollars in future fire seasons. The governor's budget doesn't do this so I am optimistic we will add that at the legislative level.
Holding state government accountable
I have serious concerns about how the executive branch is operating the state government. Two areas of particular concern are the Department of Corrections and our mental health system. In recent weeks, we have learned of catastrophic breakdowns at the DOC and mental health facilities like Western State Hospital.
The early release of more than 3,000 felons by the Department of Corrections is unacceptable. Some have gone on to commit serious crimes, resulting in at least two deaths, when they should have been behind bars. It's not just a political scandal, it's a public safety issue that we need to address immediately and hold those responsible accountable. Officials in the executive branch have known about this for at least three years and delayed correcting the problem many times. This information was either ignored, mishandled or suppressed at the highest levels until December and any of those reasons are cause for great concern. It is the governor's job to operate most state agencies, however the Legislature must step in if operations threaten the public.
The current state of our mental health system simply is not good enough. It is a human tragedy that affects families and communities. The governor requested large increases in funding last year and as the session developed, the Legislature funded those requests and added funds for additional capacity. Unfortunately, as this plan was implemented at the executive level the problem may have gotten worse, rather than better. The state is now threatened with the loss of certification and the additional funded capacity has not been implemented. It is important that the legislature review the management of this agency rather than simply funding the governor's request. We did that last year and the results were bad for both people in need and for the taxpayer.
This job means a great deal to me. It is uplifting when we can effectively serve the people of the 2nd District and it is shattering when we fail. I, and Sharon Trask, my Legislative Assistant, appreciate all the feedback, positive or negative, that we can get from you.