Opinion

Budget sacrifices public safety, education

By Rep. Kirk Pearson

It is unbelievable to think that shortly we will go into a special legislative session called by the governor to cut money from public schools and weaken public safety.

In the last two hours of the 105-day, 2009 legislative session on April 26, I and my House Republican colleagues engaged House Democrats in a heated debate on House Bill 1776. The measure would allow local school districts to increase levy lids by 4 percent to make up for the 16 percent, $60 million, cut to levy equalization funding in the state budget. We won that battle, for now. In addition, we were supposed to debate a bill that would reduce sentencing for dangerous felons, Senate Bill 6160.

Not only is it irresponsible to wait until the final hours to try to pass huge issues of critical importance to our communities, but it is a sad reflection of the values used to craft the budget.

Budget writers cut $60 million from school levy equalization and short-changed state parks, but authorized $107 million to purchase land and additional money to buy an island. In this tight budget year, that money could have maintained our parks or kept dangerous felons locked up and away from our families.

If House Bill 1776 passes, the Arlington School District would lose an estimated $152,745 and Marysville could lose $782,119 in levy equalization funds. In all, 220 school districts would see cuts in their levy equalization match. Yes, under the bill, school districts would be allowed to ask the voters to support a 4 percent levy lid increase. However, in these times of economic uncertainty, I believe we may see more levies fail. People may not be able to afford to pay higher property taxes, leaving schools counting on taxpayers who simply cannot give more right now.

Regarding public safety, I have called this session “The Year of the Felon.” This year a bill passed that allows felons the right to vote before paying restitution to their victims. Other felon-friendly measures included measures to defund the Auto Theft Prevention Task Force, and to raise the threshold on property crimes from $250 to $750. Now thieves will know how much more they can steal from hapless store owners without being charged with a felony. In addition, a bill was passed that eliminates a number of community corrections officers who supervise high-risk felons released from our jails and prisons.

I have fought all session long to protect key public safety measures in the budget. Senate Bill 6160 is completely contrary to the work I and others have tried to do to protect families. This measure is an attempt to save money by shortening sentences for practically all felons convicted after the effective date of the act, and by giving them earlier release than they otherwise would have received under current law. Studies show that the longer the sentence, the fewer crimes are committed. This also achieves savings by avoiding costs of investigating new crimes, re-arresting, prosecuting, and sentencing the offender to another term of incarceration.

I will not stand idly by while innocent citizens are victimized by felons we are letting out early to flood our communities for no other reason than to save money. Public safety is one of the highest priorities of government, and we should not compromise it simply to save a few dollars, particularly when we are wasting public funds on non-essential things.

If the budget is a “moral document” as the Democrat House speaker told us, then why is it that budget writers are balancing the budget on the backs of victims and children? If you agree with me, by all means please call Gov. Christine Gregoire, (360) 902-4111; House Speaker Frank Chopp, (360) 786-7920; and, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, (360) 786-7604, and let them know your thoughts.

Rep. Kirk Pearson, R- Monroe, is serving his fifth term in the Washington State Legislature for the 39th District.

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