How to write a responsible state budget | GUEST OPINION

Most responsible families live within a budget. Beginning with their income levels, they plan how to pay for bills, such as the mortgage, rent, utility payments, groceries, gasoline, prescription drugs, etc. They prioritize their spending, save money if they are able, and put needs ahead of wants to stay out of financial trouble. They live within their means.

Unfortunately, the Legislature has not been as responsible. Well-intentioned people in state government have created program after program, built within the operating budget. If there’s not enough money for these services, majority Democrats in the Legislature have sought more revenue through tax or fee increases to sustain them — or have threatened to decimate the most important functions of government, such as educating kids. While some may argue this is a simplistic view of a complicated issue, it’s essentially why the state budget is having repeated shortfalls. State government has tried to be everything to everyone and the problem has caught up to us. We can no longer afford for the Legislature to overspend and force taxpayers to cover resulting shortfalls — especially in this difficult economy.

Washington has nearly $2 billion more in revenue projected than in the previous budget cycle. And yet in November, the governor said taxpayers must give up another half-billion dollars or she’ll drastically cut government’s most essential services.

My House Republican colleagues and I reject budgeting that holds taxpayers hostage. We believe responsible budgeting begins by funding the most important needs first and living within existing revenue.

This year, House Republicans crafted a supplemental operating budget based on the “priorities of government” model that former Gov. Gary Locke used nearly 10 years ago. Brought forth in November 2002, Locke said, “We are looking at what matters most to Washington citizens. We are focusing on results that people want and need, prioritizing those results, and funding those results with the money we have.”

House Republicans identified three core services as priorities of government: education, public safety and protection of the state’s most vulnerable citizens.

Constitutionally, education is the state’s paramount duty. The state Supreme Court recently ruled the state must “amply provide for the education of all Washington children as the state’s first and highest priority before any other state programs or operations.” We took that seriously and proposed to fund education first in a separate budget as our state’s highest priority.

Our education budget would:

Spend $580 million more than the governor on K-12 education and $375 million more than the House Democrats’ budget proposal;

  • Fully fund levy equalization for schools in areas with lower property values;
  • Fund a full 180-day school year;
  • Maintain current funding for all-day kindergarten; and
  • Include important reforms and accountability.

In contrast, the House Democrats’ budget proposes to delay payment of $405 million to schools until the next budget cycle, including $75 million from levy equalization. This is like floating a check purchasing something now and hoping you’ll have the money when the next paycheck comes in. But it starts the next budget year almost a half-billion dollars in deficit. A Seattle Times newspaper editorial said, “These are irresponsible stopgap measures.”

The House Republican budget also would ensure public safety by:

  • Funding community supervision without reductions or early release (the House Democrats’ proposal would reduce sex offender supervision from 36 months to 24 months);
  • Funding gang violence prevention (not in the House Democrats’ budget); and
  • Providing $37 million more in public safety funding than the House Democrats’ proposal.

Taking care of our most vulnerable citizens remains House Republicans’ other priority. Our budget would:

  • Fully fund critical access hospitals (House Democrats propose a $13.4 million reduction, potentially closing some critical care hospitals in rural areas around the state);
  • Maintain funding for adult day health services (House Democrats propose a 20 percent cut);
  • Maintain funding for supported employment for the developmentally disabled (House Democrats would eliminate state-only employment services); and
  • Provide $45 million more than the House Democrats’ proposal.

There are many differences between the proposals (view them at www.houserepublicans.wa.gov). Most notably is that House Republicans prioritize spending for the most essential services of government  placing needs ahead of wants — and eliminating programs that don’t work, are inefficient or are non-essential services. The House Democrat plan also seeks to cut local government funding and provide more local taxing authority which means probable tax increases at the local level. That’s not responsible budgeting either.

House Republicans have shown the Legislature can write a responsible budget by funding the priorities of government — without devastating cuts, without gimmicks, without tax increases, and by living within our means, just as you and your family must do at home.

Rep. Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, can be contacted at 360-786-7967 or e-mail him through his website at www.houserepublicans.wa.gov/Kristiansen.


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