Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The Legislature adjourned on Wednesday, Dec. 14, barely half-way through the 30-day special session. While I'm disappointed that we were unable to arrive at a consensus on how to solve our state's projected $2 billion shortfall, I am encouraged that the majority party agreed to take some initial steps – albeit small ones.
Here is the news release I sent out yesterday after the partial budget solution passed the House:
State House of Representatives passes partial budget solution, special session set to end this week
The Washington State House of Representatives today passed a partial solution to the state's looming $2 billion budget shortfall. The early action items total about $480 million and include fund transfers, some spending reductions and delayed payments.
Rep. Larry Haler, R-Richland, voted for the measure but said it was not what the citizens expect from a special session costing taxpayers thousands of dollars a day.
“This is the absolute smallest budget solution that the majority party could produce,” Haler said. “It truly is the least we could do. I'm supporting it because it's better than doing nothing at all. But the reality is this is a list of things that are non-controversial and only amount to about one-fourth of the total budget problem. We have some very heavy lifting to do come January.”
Haler said that House Republicans began working on a plan months ago to bridge the $2 billion gap between current state revenues and what the state wants to spend. However, because it didn't include a tax increase and eliminated entire programs favored by certain elements within the majority party, it wasn't seriously considered by those writing the budget.
“Many of my colleagues and I want to see an 'all priorities' budget first, along with true government reform, before there's any talk of tax increases,” Haler said. “The initial budget we saw from the governor certainly didn't reflect our priorities of education, protecting the most vulnerable and public safety. You can't tell me that a state agency like the Department of Ecology – which, by the way, hasn't shared in the collective spending reductions that other agencies and entities have – is more of a priority than services for the developmentally disabled and senior citizens. Or more of a priority than much-needed levy equalization dollars. We should be funding our priorities first, not holding them hostage to more taxes.”
With the House's actions today the Legislature is expected to adjourn the 30-day special session early – possibly this week – despite the governor's directive for solving the $2 billion shortfall now, in order to focus on job-creating proposals in the 2012 session.
“One of my fears is that we'll still be bogged down trying to solve this same problem throughout the 2012 session instead of working on proposals to help free up the private sector to create more jobs,” Haler said. “We were called to Olympia to do a job: find a solution to the state's projected $2 billion shortfall. Because of the lack of leadership from the majority party, we were unable to complete this task.
“Despite the platitudes and lengthy explanations from those in charge, the fact is, the last two weeks have been almost a complete waste of time and taxpayer dollars,” Haler concluded. “The citizens of Washington don't want excuses, they want our state's fiscal house in order.”
We have much more work to do in January when the 2012 session starts, but I'm hopeful that members from both parties and from both the House and Senate will be able to come to an agreed upon budget solution quickly. In the meantime, have a wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year. And thanks again for the honor and privilege of serving you in Olympia.