Dear friends and neighbors,
Today is day 26 of the scheduled 105-day legislative session in Olympia. It's been a very busy four weeks, with back-to-back meetings, committee schedules and floor action.
I wanted to take just a few moments to send you a brief update about budget issues before the Legislature that are important to our local citizens. As you may know, the state operating budget is in deep trouble and we are working our way through it to prioritize spending. More details about this work are provided below.
Many thanks to all of you who have contacted my office about your concerns, not only on the budget, but on other issues important to the 14th District. Your input helps as we address the challenges of this great state of Washington. Please continue to stay informed by going to my Web site at: houserepublicans.wa.gov/Johnson, and please continue to stay involved by writing, e-mailing, calling and visiting my office.
Thank you for the honor of allowing me to serve you!
Setting the right priorities in the budget
You've probably heard there's a budget shortfall of more than $5 billion projected for the next two years. And soon we will be dealing with that budget.
But we have an immediate problem with the budget for the CURRENT fiscal year, which ends June 30 — and that's a $600 million dollar shortfall.
Several days ago, we took the first critical vote of the year on this spending plan. Both House Republicans and the majority party submitted proposals to shrink the current fiscal year's budget deficit.
Going through this process and realizing there's not enough money to fund everything, we have to make priority decisions. My House Republican colleagues and I are asking the question, “Is this a NEED or a WANT?” In other words, what do we NEED to fund rather than what we'd like to fund? For us, it comes down to three priorities:
• Public Safety
• Protection of our most vulnerable citizens.
The Republican budget proposal would have eliminated programs that are unnecessary state expenses, such as the General Assistance Unemployable Program – also known as GAU. GAU is a program that provides cash assistance for those transitioning to Social Security disability benefits. It's also a redundant state expense, because there's a similar federal program those on the state program can move to. Both Gov. Gregoire and Gary Locke (when he was governor) have supported GAU's elimination.
We had to make the choice of whether to keep GAU – or protect funding for education – especially the kindergarten to 4th grade classrooms. My Republican colleagues and I chose to protect education.
Funding education is not only a need, it's a state constitutional mandate. In fact, it's our paramount duty.
Unfortunately, the majority party chose instead to save GAU and retroactively eliminate funding for kindergarten through 4 class-size reductions.
That means they're going all the way back to September to remove those allocations from school districts which have already hired the teachers. And that's going to be devastating to schools. Where are they going to find that money?
Although this budget proposal preserves the Yakima Valley School in Selah, I am also very concerned about the provision in the majority party's proposal to close the Francis Haddon Morgan Center in Bremerton. This is a facility that takes care of people with autism.
I voted against the majority party's proposal because of the severe reductions in education and the affects it could have on our most vulnerable citizens. Unfortunately, it passed by a vote of 55-43.
A similar Senate proposal will be coming to the House in the next few days. Once again, I will be working to preserve our top three priorities in the budget.
Ensuring budget transparency
The most important bill of the session that we will consider is the state's two-year operating budget. Knowing what is in that budget before we vote on it is essential. However, two years ago, my fellow Republican colleagues and I received the final operating budget at 8:30 a.m., and were told we would be voting on it later that afternoon. It was a document of more than 500 pages. Since it was written by majority Democrats, none of us had access to it before than morning – and we hadn't read the budget bill. Yet, we were asked to vote on it later that day.
It does a great disservice, not only to members of the Legislature but the citizens of our state, when we are not allowed the time to read and digest the many spending provisions in the state budget. So that's why I supported a proposal last week that would have required the budget to sit 72 hours before a vote once it is released to members and the public. A three-day period of review would provide ample time to understand what is included in the budget.
Unfortunately, that proposal was rejected. So we offered a second proposal – a 48-hour freeze. Again, the amendment was rejected. The final rules that were adopted will provide for a 24-hour re
view period. Although that's better than nothing, I feel the public deserves so much better.