We have finished up the third week of the 2011 legislative session. This week in my update, I've highlighted four areas:
· Early spending adjustments
· Update on legislation
· Transparency Issues
Early Spending Adjustments
The week started with a vote on the majority party's early spending adjustments and the presentation of the House Republican alternative budget proposal. House Republicans offered a striking amendment on the House floor to the majority party's spending gap adjustments because we believe their proposal did not make the necessary reforms to state spending. Even the Everett Herald editorialized this week that ours was a better fix for the state's budget shortfall and this early budget decision.
The budget passed is unsustainable, not responsive to taxpayers, and fails to prioritize or reform state government. The people of Washington state are clearly looking for leadership to change the course of state government, unfortunately the budget passed fell short. It also relies too heavily on retroactive cuts to education. As a former school board member and president, it is very concerning this so-called budget fix retroactively takes money away from schools. This is money that school districts have already budgeted for, and in many cases, have already spent to hire additional staff. We are breaking a promise to our schools and our children.
Update on Legislation
Three bills I have prime-sponsored continue to move through the legislative process. The State Government and Tribal Affairs Committee passed House Bill 1150, which would require state agencies to allow seven business days for an employer to correct a violation before any fines or penalties can be imposed, so long as the violation does not endanger the public or employees. This legislation would help those who are in good faith trying to do the right thing.
House Bill 1274, passed by the Local Government Committee this week, would increase the population threshold for rural public hospital districts so they can continue entering into cooperative agreements with one another to help meet district needs. This is essential to provide necessary medical services to small communities with limited resources.
The House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee heard House Bill 1152, and is scheduled to vote on the legislation this coming week. This bill would apply to lands on which livestock graze or seek feed in pastures, fields or rangeland. Currently the Department of Ecology (DOE) can fine someone if they think an action could potentially create a problem. This bill states that DOE must first determine that a problem exists due to the presence of livestock, and then offer assistance to resolve the matter prior to a penalty.
Earlier this year when King 5 television did an investigative series into our ferry system, they highlighted huge management and oversight problems that have plagued the system for years. I have signed on to three bills to bring reforms to our ferry system. House Bill 1511 – Fairness in Bargaining, House Bill 1512 – Operations Efficiency, House Bill 1516 – Performance Accountability.
Our decisions concerning this issue need to be fact-based, fair to Washington taxpayers and ensure efficient and reliable service on our state's marine highways. We know 69 percent of the operating budget of Washington State Ferries is labor cost, including management. We also know, new policy ideas to address unsustainable cost drivers in the department, from construction costs to operational efficiencies must be implemented. These bills are a step in the right direction. I am also encouraged in my meetings with union representatives as they have expressed commitment to be part of a sustainable solution.
This week, Republicans introduced two amendments that would have required state budgets be available to the public for either 72 or 48 hours prior to a final vote of the House. Unfortunately, we only managed to maintain the current 24 hour amendatory process. It's important to remember that in the final hours before a budget vote, a striker amendment can replace the initial budget that has moved through the public process. The striker may have substantive changes that neither we, or the public have seen. 24 hours is simply not enough time.
The Legislature should not be an institution of secrets, but an institution of solutions. The public has felt shut out of the process in the past and want a say in the important decisions that affect all of us. Ample time is needed to review and provide input on a budget before the House takes a final vote on a bill that spends hard-earned taxpayer dollars. Last year we had a few hours to review the final 500+ page document before we were to vote on it. This is no way to conduct the people's business and appropriate YOUR money!
Please feel free to forward this to friends, family and neighbors you think might be interested. I look forward to hearing your ideas, and I assure you that while we may not always agree, I truly believe the best solutions often come from the respectful deliberations and collaboration of many differing viewpoints.