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Pearson talks budget cuts, revenue, job creation
OLYMPIA — As state Rep. Kirk Pearson heads into his sixth term, he reflected on recent changes and upcoming challenges facing both the Legislature and its constituents.
By his reckoning, he lost part of Marysville in the redistricting, but he still represents Marysville and Arlington citizens.
"I'm happy that I didn't lose a lot," Pearson said. "I still have essentially the same district as before."
This year's state budget promises to be far more difficult. Pearson had hoped to handle most of it during the special session, which only resolved about $48 million, but he encouraged citizens not to mistake the political processes of Washington state for Washington, D.C.
"The state Legislature recognizes that we're all in this together," said Pearson, a member of the Republican minority in the state House of Representatives. "It's not about election ploys for us. We care about helping the citizens of this state. We do hope the Democrats will take some of our ideas. We've offered some good ideas, and if they could get hearings, that'd be great."
At the same time, Pearson, a strong advocate of public safety, expressed concerns over proposed cuts to public safety, especially in areas such as supervision for sex offenders, since hundreds of correctional officers and staff have already been cut in recent years.
"We're putting our citizens in peril if there's no safety net to protect them from people who are highly likely to reoffend," Pearson said. "Education, the vulnerable and needy, and public safety are areas that we can't play with."
To that end, Pearson reiterated his support for levy equalization, noted that school districts throughout Snohomish County would be hit disproportionately hard if those dollars were taken away.
"That's non-negotiable," Pearson said. "I hope cooler heads prevail, but bottom line, our state's only mandate is to fund education."
When considering what combination of cuts and revenue would work best to meet this need, Pearson took exception to how he sees the governor defining "cuts."
"My definition of a cut is, if my salary gets reduced by 3 percent, that's a cut," Pearson said. "As far as the governor is concerned, if you projected to make more money, but you don't get it, that's a 'cut.' That's not really a cut, though."
Pearson also argued that job creation is essential to bolstering the state budget, and cited legislation that he plans to push this year, which hadn't received a hearing last year, to direct the state government to shop for contracted products and services within its own borders first.
"Even the Department of Corrections buys furniture from out of state," Pearson said. "I'd rather keep those dollars in the state and put our people first."
Pearson praised his constituents for supplying him with ideas for legislation, and credited a recent discussion with Cory Duskin, general manager of the Arlington Pharmacy, with educating him about Pharmacy Benefit Managers, third-party administrators of prescription drug programs.
"The PBMs and middlemen who rebate the top products," Pearson said. "The Duskins aren't really on a level playing field with them."
Pearson is already working on legislation would establish minimum standards for PBM contracts in Washington state, since they're the only profession dealing in health care that is not regulated in the state.
"I hear a lot from my constituents in this area, and I hold their opinions in high regard," Pearson said. "Because of the Duskins, I'll be dropping a bill on the floor that could benefit the whole state."
Another budget-saving measure Pearson is pursuing is the education of state employees to prevent their agencies from being hit with tort judgement. He cited the $78 million that the state was deemed liable for negligence in the last year alone.
"We have no choice but to balance the budget, so we need to think outside of the box to do it," Pearson said. "We have an opportunity to run government more efficiently, and we need to be willing to work with each other to do it. Most of the bills that I've pushed through over the years, I had to have help from the other side on, because that's part of being in the minority. I've got a big agenda and I'm going to be hitting the floor running. I'm optimistic. We can't just fall back on the same-old-same-old, because that's what's gotten us to where we're at right now."