Dear Friends and Neighbors,
To participate, residents may call the toll-free number at 1-877-229-8493 and enter the code 15802 when prompted. During the telephone town hall, we will listen to residents, answer questions and discuss a variety of topics related to the 2012 session. Once on the line, participants may select star 3 on their telephone keypads to ask a question or they can simply listen in and take part in instant polls. There will also be an opportunity at the end of the call to leave a message for your three state legislators. I hope you can join us.
We're two-thirds of the way through the 2012 legislative session and we're just now seeing a budget from the majority party in the House showing their plans to solve our state's budget shortfall. We also received some favorable news last week in the updated revenue forecast. The end result is that less people are using state services and we're going to see a little bit more in revenue. Our budget shortfall is expected to be around $1.1 billion now. Hopefully, this news will help us keep tax increases from being part of the overall budget solution.
House Republican Budget
House Republicans introduced the first budget of the 2012 legislative session last week. During the special session in December, and earlier this session, members of my caucus met for literally hours and hours hammering out our priorities and principles – and specifically defining them. Our budget approach was to create an “all-priorities” budget that funds education first, protects public safety, and protects the most vulnerable – all without increasing tax rates. I'm proud of the leadership shown by my colleagues and the work we've been able to accomplish. Being in the minority and still putting out a complete budget proposal is no small feat. But in the end, we felt we needed to provide the public with something to contrast what we think the majority party will craft. If you want more information on our budget proposal, click here.
House Democrat Budget
My preliminary analysis of the House Democrat budget is that it continues to kick the can down the road – only now, it's not a can, it's a barrel. Their budget takes almost $400 million in education apportionment payments and levy equalization money and pushes it into the next biennium. That may balance our books now, but what about the next budget cycle? We can't continue to push off payments by using these budget gimmicks.
They also cut funding to local governments, but then give these same local governments the authority to raise taxes to make up the difference. It seems like they've found a way to go around the voter-approved 2/3 majority vote of the Legislature to raise taxes at the state level. Just cut local government and then have them raise their own local taxes. Again, this is not good leadership. Punting the problem down the road or passing the buck off to someone else is not what we as elected officials were sent to Olympia to accomplish.
Their budget also fails to fund Critical Access Hospitals, which are extremely important to our district and the Tri-Cities region. They also make severe cuts to services for our most vulnerable like supported employment for developmentally disabled, nursing home reimbursement rates and adult day health services.
As a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, I'll be working with budget writers from the majority party to try and bring some of our ideas and solutions to the table. Even though we only have about two weeks left in session, the budget negotiations between the House and Senate, Republicans and Democrats, have finally begun.
Solving the budget problem for this year is not enough. We need several budget reforms to change the process itself to help create long-term sustainability. One of those bills is House Bill 2607 which passed the House this week. I cosponsored this legislation that would help bring stability and accountability to the state's budgeting process. It requires the Office of Financial Management (OFM) to publish a six-year budget outlook when the governor releases his or her preliminary budget proposal and related documents before each legislative session begins. The outlook must use the most recent revenue and caseload forecasts and will be updated by OFM to reflect both legislative actions and
revenue forecast changes.
The six-year outlook is something that OFM had done regularly in the past, but in recent years has not included it in the governor's budget release. With this bill, the six-year outlook would be mandatory, giving lawmakers and citizens a better picture of the state's long-term fiscal health and the impact proposed policies have on future budgets.
The spending decisions we make in the Legislature today aren't just felt for one or two years; they impact us down the road for years to come. Having a clear picture of what our state's fiscal health looks like six years from now because of the decisions we make today will help hold legislators more accountable, keep the public more informed and, hopefully, lead to greater budget stability in the future.
As always, feel free to contact my office with any questions or concern. It is an honor and a privilege to serve you in Olympia.