Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Only 12 days remain until the Legislature convenes in Olympia on Jan. 10 for a scheduled 105-day legislative session. The greatest challenge before us will be closing a massive state budget deficit for the 2011-13 fiscal biennium that exceeds $5 billion.
As I mentioned in an earlier e-mail to some folks on this list, lawmakers convened Dec. 11 in a one-day special session to take early action to reduce a $1.1 billion deficit for the last seven months of this fiscal biennium, which ends June 30. I was glad the majority party allowed Republicans to bring our solutions and ideas to the table. The bipartisan budget agreement reduced state spending by $588 million for the remaining fiscal cycle.
In the agreement, Republicans held firm to our priorities of government:
- Education – We preserved levy equalization for schools in property-poor districts, including many of our rural schools in the 16th District;
- Public safety – We stood up against proposed cuts in corrections, which originally would have removed security officers from vulnerable areas of our prisons, including the kitchen and lunchroom where many fights break out (very important for protection of our security officers at the state prison in Walla Walla); and
- Protection of our state's most vulnerable citizens – We prevented reductions to nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.
Had we waited until session begun in January, it would have cost taxpayers an additional $300 million and required deeper and more painful reductions. Acting earlier helped us to preserve these important programs.
Two weeks ago, the governor released her budget proposal for the 2011-13 fiscal cycle. Normally, that proposal is used as a starting point for the Legislature to craft a two-year budget. As expected, the governor's proposal makes deep reductions and, in some cases, eliminates programs. (You can read more about it by clicking here.)
Recently a reporter asked me, “Are you sure you really want this job?” While no one is happy about the state's budget crisis, it's one of the primary reasons I decided to run for office. I knew back in 2007 when the Legislature blew through a $2 billion surplus and then spent beyond the revenue coming in to the state, that we needed a fiscal voice of reason to protect taxpayers, employers and families.
The fact is, state government cannot provide everything to everyone, nor should it. For a long time, we've needed to reset the role of state government. While we have great challenges ahead, I look forward to providing a reasoned voice to the process, and reminding other lawmakers that state government needs to do what virtually every family and small business in this state have done at one time or another since the beginning of the recession: prioritize spending within existing revenues.
I look at this budget crisis as an opportunity to make long-needed reforms in state government, including finding ways to administer programs in the most efficient and cost-effective manner. I value your input and hope you will actively be a part of this process.
Jan and I want to wish you and your family a Happy New Year.
Thank you for the honor of allowing me to serve you.