Op-Ed: Washington citizens deserve better than broken promises, budget gimmicks from Olympia
It's no secret Washington is in a financial hole. The current budget is still $600 million in deficit and the projected spending gap for the 2011-13 budget is nearing $5 billion. We believe it is past-time to take bold actions that put our state on solid financial footing. State government needs to get realistic about what we taxpayers can afford, and what we can't.
The public expects state leaders to be straightforward and do what is best for the people of the state. Unfortunately, the majority party in Olympia is still doing cartwheels to keep all the “sacred cows” grazing.
It's time for fresh ideas and solutions. That's why we, along with our House Republican colleagues, offered an alternative budget plan that not only took a bigger bite out of the current spending gap, but would dramatically lessen the $5 billion shortfall in the next budget. While our proposal was sidelined by Democrats, here's what the Everett Herald wrote in an editorial published on Jan. 25, 2011 about our spending adjustments:
“Rather than sitting on the sidelines complaining about the big-spending ways of majority Democrats, … Republicans stepped up and offered an alternative that set clearer priorities and dealt much more decisively with the tough budget realities lawmakers face.”
With the difficult challenges facing our families, employers and communities, we believe the citizens of this state deserve more than the proposals generated by one-party-rule in Olympia. Democrats, while holding the majority in the House and Senate along with the governor's mansion, do not have a trademark on good ideas. That's why we offered up solutions that embrace smaller government, more accountability and set clear priorities for government services. We know we can no longer avoid the realities of our budget situation.
The voters spoke loud and clear in November – they want government to live within its means, prioritize spending, and reduce its footprint. Despite this directive, Democrats again demonstrated their unwillingness to set priorities with the passage of Substitute House Bill 1086, dubbed the “early action” budget bill.
The truth is, the bill was neither “early” nor “action.” It's more like a “delayed reaction.” As we have pointed out, the current budget problems have been building due to overspending since 2005. House Bill 1086 did not include any long-term solutions and continued their theme of kicking the tough financial decisions down the road. The legislation did not enact a single government reform or eliminate expensive programs we know we cannot afford in the future.
One of the worst elements of their proposal is that it retroactively de-funds schools' K-4 enhancement programs, but it saves funding for General Assistance Unemployable (GAU) (recently renamed Disability Lifeline). Basically, the Democrat budget bill allowed the state to break a promise it made to our kids by asking for money back that most schools have already spent to hire teachers.
The state-funded GAU program is designed to serve as a temporary plan for those deemed “unemployable” (usually adult men with mental or substance-abuse issues) as they transition to social security. But there is already a federal program – General Assistance Expedited – that provides for this. The taxpayers in this state want us to end the duplicitous programs and streamline government services. We cannot continue to support this program at the expense of teachers in the classrooms.
Constituents should also know there is continued discussion among the majority party that levy equalization will be the next pot of money to be rolled into their budget “fix.” It is unacceptable to us that kids are forced to suffer due to the majority party's poor spending habits. We will fight to protect education, levy dollars and the kids they serve.
We understand tough decisions are on the table, but we know you understand that we must look long-term and craft budget solutions that actually solve the problems, not further delay needed action. We hope you will contact us with your ideas and feedback as we work through the budget process this session.
Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, serves as the deputy Republican leader in the House and can be reached at (360) 786-7988 or email@example.com. Rep. Shelly Short, R-Addy, is serving her second term as state representative and can be reached at (360) 786-7908 or firstname.lastname@example.org.