Dear friends and neighbors,
This week brings the start of spring and the next policy committee cut-off. While we enjoy the flowers starting to bloom outside, we are wrapping up hearings on the bills that were sent over to the House from the Senate. Friday will be the last day to hear those bills in policy committees. The same is true for House bills that went to the Senate; I’m pleased to report that the legislation that I sponsored continues to move through the process. You can track the progress of my bills and all other legislation online and see the whole session calendar here.
On a different note, I like many of you, have spent time following the news of the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan. I have observed with horror the impact of these disasters but also been inspired by the resilience of humanity in the face of tragedy. Our hearts go out to all of those impacted in Japan and around the world.
I have also been contacted by a number of people worried about the possibility of leaking radiation reaching our shores. The Department of Health routinely monitors air samples for radiation around the state. Since last Friday when the reactors in Japan began to fail, they’ve stepped-up our air monitoring and have seen no readings above what is normal for our state. If you would like more information about this, the Department of Health has a list of frequently asked questions.
This is also a good time to remember that Washington is earthquake country. Please consider updating (or creating) your emergency preparedness plan. You can get more information on how to get prepared on our state’s Department of Emergency Management.
Revenue forecast will force more budget cuts
Dr. Arun Raha, our state’s chief economist and Executive Director of the Economic and Revenue Forecast Council, predicted that revenue for the next two fiscal years (the 2011-13 biennium) will be $698.4 million less than previously thought. This is in addition to the deficit we were already facing; the shortfall in the amount needed to maintain the state budget at its current level is now about $5.4 billion. And, of course, the “current level” includes over $5 billion in reductions to every area of state government. These cuts have impacted and will continue to impact programs that we all hold dear.
At the council meeting, Dr. Arun Raha made the following statements:
- There is still a high degree of uncertainty associated with this forecast, including the tragedy in Japan and the political unrest in the Middle East.
- Gas prices are rising – the forecast assumes higher prices.
- Construction employment is still very low and is dragging down the state’s economy.
- On-line sales have been growing, causing even more leakage in the state’s revenues. The Department of Revenue estimates that we will lose $740 million in revenue in the 2011-13 biennium – more than the enough to compensate for the lower forecast.
- This forecast does assume the Boeing tanker deal, but the bulk of the impact won’t be seen until after next biennium.
My colleagues and I are hearing the message that we need to buckle down and reduce government, and we have. The Washington state budget is now less, on a per person basis, than it has been since 1986. As we consider what it will take to address the challenge we are facing, it’s important to look at the numbers. In fact, even if we cut all of the public higher education, our entire corrections system, and all of our state environmental protection efforts, our budget would still not be in balance. It will take a lot of work to meet this challenge, but it’s our job to make responsible decisions for these tough times.
With so many difficult decisions ahead, I appreciate hearing from the people I represent, so please stay in touch.