April 20, 2012
The 2012 legislative session is over. It showed how difficult it is to deal with four years of continual decline in state revenues. We are fortunate that the state’s economy finally is showing signs of improvement. While the supplemental budget does not make additional cuts to K-12 or higher education, there are still many cuts in other areas; these are in addition to the $480 million we cut in the late 2011 special session. And we face a huge problem in dealing with the Supreme Court’s McCleary decision that says the state is not meeting its constitutional responsibility to adequately fund K-12 education.
One word that was bandied about a lot this session by Republican Senators and the three Democrats who joined them in a takeover of the Senate is “reform.” It sounds good, but they misused it; they were not pushing reform. They were pushing reduction, retribution, and repeal. And the focus of these so-called reform efforts was our public employees. It was not enough that state employees and teachers have gone over four years without a cost-of-living increase, paid more for health insurance and health care, taken furlough days without pay, and taken increased deductions for their retirement. They have seen elimination of COLAs for Plan I retirees, an end to gain-sharing, and now a return to increased penalties for new employees who choose or need to retire before age 65. The latter being one of the banner “reform” items of 2012. Many state employees earn substantially less than their private sector counterparts, and with the erosion of the benefits, it will be increasingly difficult to recruit and maintain new employees to provide vital state services.
Washington has a strong and effective pilot program to improve the evaluation of teachers and principals. It is being conducted in nine school districts across the state, including North Thurston. Unfortunately, the “reformers” used the evaluation process as the basis for their argument that the state’s public schools are filled with ineffective teachers, a premise with which I strongly disagree. Their solution: speed up the evaluation process so we can fire more teachers. I voted against the accelerated evaluation bill because I feared it would derail a successful pilot and because many of its supporters were using teachers as a scapegoat. There is a big difference between using evaluations to help principals and teachers improve and using them as a simplistic attack on our schools. While the evaluation pilot holds great promise, its purpose—as stated by many of the “reformers”—is to establish a mechanism for firing teachers, not help them improve. So I support a stronger evaluation process for teachers and principals, but I reject the “reform” argument that we need a new law to fire more teachers and principals. And, just where will the “reformers” find large numbers of new teachers to work for $34,401 (or $44,989 with a PhD)?
The old pirate line, “Beatings will continue until morale improves,” comes to mind when I think of these types of reforms.
Budget and Jobs Now Act approved
A balanced and sustainable operating budget and the capital budget/Jobs Now Act passed the full legislature in the early morning of April 11th, and now sit on the Governor’s desk awaiting her signature. These budgets will protect the vulnerable in our community, foster prosperity and invest in our future.
As I mentioned, the final operating budget contains no cuts to K-12 education or higher education. It also protects important safety net services like the Basic Health Plan, Disability Lifeline, and family planning grants.
The Jobs Now Act will generate over 18,000 jobs statewide and fund construction investments that are essential for the long-term prosperity of our communities.
These budgets are consistent with the feedback my office heard from constituents as we received thousands of e-mails and phone calls this session in support of maintaining funding for K-12 education, higher education, and important safety net programs; and in support of infrastructure investments. Thank you to everyone that provided input throughout the legislative process.
How did we meet the 2012 budget shortfall?
Remember, we faced a nearly $2 billion budget hole when we began working on the supplemental budget last November. How did we solve it?
We started with a “down payment” in December 2011 that addressed $480 million of the problem.
Then, in early February, we got a couple shots of better economic news.
- In the current biennium, revenues are expected to grow by about $87 million.
- Due in very large part to tighter eligibility requirements, the demand for state services dropped by around $340 million.
That left us with a shortfall of around $1.2 billion to fill in the final negotiated budget. We did that with a combination of things:
- $340.3 million in maintenance level changes
- $295.4 million in policy changes
- $238 million from the Local Sales Tax Working Capital Reserve
- $177.3 million in additional revenues
- $120 million in reversions
- $28.4 million in fund transfers
There are still those who want to insist that the state operating budget hasn’t actually been cut at all over these past four years – that the “cuts” have really only been a decrease in the increase that would have otherwise been made. To some degree, that might be considered true. Take, for example, the funding of Initiatives 728 and 732. Those are voter-approved obligations to increase spending for education, and for several years we have not funded them. Those are counted as “cuts” since they are expenditures we ordinarily would have made.
But that doesn’t account for anywhere near the whole budget situation. State spending is actually lower than it was a few years ago, both in real dollars and in per-capita spending. In fact, today the per-person spending in Washington, adjusted for inflation, is back down to 1985 levels.
Improving our economy in a historic way
One of the greatest achievements of the just-finished legislative session is passage of the Jobs Now Act of 2012.
Our state’s economy is showing some real signs of coming out of the recession, but one of the hardest-hit industries – construction – is still suffering. It’s estimated that 30% of those in the construction trades are unemployed right now in Western Washington, and those numbers are nearly double on the eastern side of the state.
But those numbers don’t tell the whole story. Suppliers, retailers, concrete companies and other industries connected to the construction business have also been hard-hit. Clearly, if our economy is to fully rebound, something needed to be done to stimulate the construction industry.
So we took inspiration from actions Democratic president Franklin D. Roosevelt took to help get America out of the Great Depression, and Republican governor Dan Evans took in the 1970s to grow Washington state’s economy during that decade’s tough recession. Both of them decided that the best way to get people back to work was the direct path: hire people to build things that will benefit taxpayers for generations to come.
That’s the idea behind the Jobs Now Act – we are taking advantage of some of the lowest interest rates in decades to put our own people to work building, repairing, and modernizing infrastructure projects in all corners of the state. Up to 18,000 jobs will be created right away – many as early as this summer – and 9,000 long-term jobs will be generated from the economic development projects.
How often does a plan in Olympia have the support of both business groups and labor unions? Jobs Now did. And though the bill got a little bit tangled up in the operating budget negotiations, it ultimately passed with strong bi-partisan support in both the House and the Senate.
The 22nd District will benefit directly with a number of projects, including $778,000 to help build a new home for SafePlace, $1.4 million to clean and repair the leaking Capitol dome, $1.5 million to assist Panza with construction of a permanent location for Camp Quixote, $469,000 for a Tumwater wastewater facility, $342,000 for a Lacey stormwater facility, $312,000 for South Puget Sound Community College water quality, and $7.9 million for LOTT sedimentation basins.
Washington gets 100% for accessibility to government
Washington state has earned a perfect score for website transparency for the second year in a row. This means Access Washington is one of the most open and accessible state government sites in the entire nation.
The A+ grade was awarded by the Sunshine Review, a national nonprofit organization focused on government accountability. Washington is one of just 10 states to receive such a high mark. To learn more about the reasons our state website got a perfect score, go here.
Since its initial launch in 1998, Access Washington has won multiple awards for service, innovation, communication, quality and excellence.
Users can find answers to endless questions about their government, such as how to report suspected fraud, how to renew your drivers or business license, and where to get employment assistance. You can also find names and contact information of elected officials and lobbyists, easy access to contracts and tax information, and information on ethics policies as well as the Washington Public Records Act.
Check it out!