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Dear Friends and Neighbors,
We just concluded the special session called by the governor that began Nov. 28. The Legislature adjourned this past Wednesday. It was extremely frustrating to me because so little was accomplished. It felt much longer than 17 days as we struggled to find a budget solution. Before we close the door on 2011, I wanted provide some insight into the special session and outline my focus for 2012.
Update on the special session
We had high hopes we could pass reforms and close the $2 billon spending gap in the 2011-13 state operating budget. That didn't happen; however, a budget agreement was reached addressing about 20 percent of the deficit. Roughly $480 million was found through spending reductions, shifts, and minor untapped resources. The graphs below can help you quickly see the breakdown of the $480 million reduction.
The $480 million starts us in the right direction, but it only chips away at a much bigger problem. It's discouraging to note that every day the Legislature was in Olympia, it cost taxpayers thousands of dollars. Tougher decisions need to be made soon. The lack of progress was not due to a shortage of effort by the House Republicans. We offered a complete alternative budget proposal. We were prepared from day one – and still are – with a solution for the spending gap that doesn't include raising taxes.
Looking ahead to 2012
When I return to Olympia in January, I will be focusing on three main concerns that significantly impact our district, as well as citizens across the state.
I-937 Energy Issues
Initiative 937, also known as “The Energy Independence Act”, was created with the intent to require utilities to purchase renewable energy. Unfortunately, there are unintended consequences from I-937 that force utilities to buy energy they don't need. Under I-937, hydroelectric power is not classified as renewable energy. Conservation isn't accepted to reach I-937 renewable energy targets. These unintended consequences drive up energy costs.
I have sponsored HB 2124 which will address these problems while maintaining the underlying intent of I-937. Under this legislation, utilities would only need to purchase renewable energy if it was needed to meet consumer demand. HB 2124 would help preserve low energy costs, which is vitally important to keep existing businesses and attract new businesses to Washington state.
Critical Access Hospitals (CAH)
Earlier this fall, HB 2130 was introduced as a cost-cutting measure. The bill would lower Medicaid cost-based reimbursement to the 38 Critical Access Hospitals across the state, including Dayton General Hospital and Lourdes Medical Center. Some hospitals would be forced to close, while others would see large reductions in medical services as a direct result of the cut. These hospitals provide not only primary care clinics, but 24-hour emergency care to individuals in rural communities. Furthermore, these cuts would adversely affect local economies. In many cases, the CAH is the area's largest employer. My fellow legislators and I are dedicated maintaining essential funding for CAH.
Levy equalization was created by the Legislature to help address property tax based disparity throughout the state. Districts with lower property values receive a share of state funds to create a more equitable education for all students. The governor's budget proposal included $152 million in cuts to levy equalization. I feel this places an unfair burden on the poorest districts and the neediest students. We need to preserve levy equalization; it is an investment in our future.
Please contact me if you have any questions, comments or concerns. Your input is appreciated. If you are planning a visit to Olympia during this year's session, which begins January 9, 2012 please let us know.
Jan and I wish you a Merry Christmas from our family to yours.
404 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7828 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000