Report from Olympia

Published on Thu, Apr 4, 2002 by Representative Doug EricksonThe Northern Light asked our local state legislators to give us their take on the successes and failures of the recently concluded legislative session. Here are their responses.

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Report from Olympia

By Representative Doug Erickson
The Northern Light asked our local state legislators to give us their take on the successes and failures of the recently concluded legislative session. Here are their responses.

Before we start congratulating ourselves for wrapping up the 2002 legislative session in 60 days, we need to be honest about what we really accomplished.

I had high hopes when we began the 2002 session in January. I knew we had many challenges before us, but I believe that with challenge comes opportunity - opportunity to make positive changes for the people of this state.

We had the opportunity to reform the way government does business by adopting legislation that would earn back the public’s trust. My priority this session was to make state government and the legislature more accountable to the taxpayers. While we made strides in moving forward to solve our transportation crisis, we failed to solve our state’s budget deficit.
After two years of tough negotiations, we finally approved a traffic congestion relief package and a regional transportation plan. I’ve heard from many of my constituents on this issue and one of the things that I’ve heard loud and clear is that folks want to have a voice in deciding whether their taxes are increased. I respect the wishes of those I represent and am pleased that taxpayers will be given a chance in November to vote on a nearly $8 billion statewide transportation package. The package includes:

•A nine-cent-a-gallon gas tax increase - five cents the first year and four cents the year after that.
•A one percent increase in the sales tax on new and used vehicles.
•A 30 percent increase (15 percent per year over two years) on gross truck weight fees.

Unfortunately, the legislature fell short in several other areas. The big winners this session include anyone with an interest in expanding government - namely labor unions and the folks who for years have been begging for a tax increase. Conversely, taxpayers and our state’s job providers didn’t fare as well. At a time when our state’s leaders should have been focused on fixing a gaping $1.6 billion budget deficit, many in the legislature made political payback and risky credit-card budgeting their priority.

With the passage of House Bill 1268, unions representing state employees now will negotiate salaries and benefits with the governor - and the legislature may not alter their agreement. Instead, legislators will be forced to vote yes or no to a package that takes up nearly a third of the state budget. The bottom line: your elected officials have been taken out of a huge portion of the budgeting process.

These decisions should be made between elected legislators, who are held accountable for their actions by the voters of this state — not behind closed doors with the governor and the state employees’ union. This major shift in public policy is particularly devastating at a time when we are facing the most difficult budget crises we’ve experienced in a decade.

Adding insult to injury, the Legislature thumbed its nose at the voters by effectively gutting Initiative 601, the government spending limit measure that was approved in 1993. The voters made it clear that they wanted taxes and government spending limited, but this year, when the going got tough, the legislature decided fiscal responsibility interfered with its plans for the state budget, so the rules were changed.

Senate Bill 6819 was adopted in the final days of the session. It repeals, for at least two years, the requirement that raising taxes or spending money in the state’s emergency reserve fund needs a two-thirds majority in the legislature.

Our country is in a time of crisis, our state is in a deep recession and many citizens are struggling to pay their bills. Now is not the time to increase taxes. Yet raising taxes is exactly what SB 6819 set the stage to do.

And in one final blow to Washington taxpayers, the budget not only raises taxes, but it also taps into our emergency reserves to close a budget deficit - a deficit that wouldn’t even exist, if the Legislature had passed a responsible budget last year.

This irresponsible supplemental budget continues the mistakes that were made last session. Instead of fixing the problem, the budget adopted this session continues to use a credit-card and “smoke and mirrors” approach. It relies on $150 million in Medicaid funding we may or may not receive from the federal government, gambles on the state getting $24 million by joining a multi-state lottery, and sells a portion of the state’s tobacco settlement payments, a scheme that uses one-time money for ongoing
expenses.

Any way you look at it, this budget fails to address the real problem. It simply postpones the tough decisions that will eventually have to be made.
It may have helped get legislators out of Olympia in 60 days, but it doesn’t let the taxpayer off the hook.

Now more than ever, because of our economic downturn, we needed bold leadership and legislative accountability. When we needed it most, however, it was nowhere to be found. The reality is that taxpayers will end up paying dearly for this irresponsible budget next session.
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