A budget that doesn’t put people first

The following op-ed appeared in the Omak-Okanogan Chronicle and was published today.

To download the article, click on the link: Budget Op-Ed

By Sen. Shelly Short, Rep. Joel Kretz and Rep. Jacquelin Maycumber

Special to The Omak-Okanogan County Chronicle

Every two years, the legislature is required to pass an operating budget that funds state government operations and services, while prioritizing education. This session, we received the budget written by majority party budget leaders on day 104 of the 105-day session. Hardly enough time to digest the finer details of a document hundreds of pages long and certainly not enough time for the public – the taxpayers – to weigh in.

Transparency took a back seat to expediency as title-only bills were introduced at the last minute, tax increases were passed literally in the dead of night, and most legislators found out what was in the budget only after it was passed by Democrats in both chambers.

This session’s impact on the average person in our district is among the worst we’ve seen. The final 2019-21 operating budget is rife with tax increases impacting individuals, employees, small businesses, property owners, real estate, and financial institutions, to name a few.

Let us be clear: tax increases were absolutely not needed.

Consider this. Two years ago, when budget writers crafted the 2017-19 operating budget, the March revenue forecast showed they would have $41.597 billion. In March of 2019 – again, just two years later – that number was $50.555 billion. That’s a $9 billion increase in two years!

This historical state revenue growth is due to taxpayers giving more of their hard-earned money to Olympia. While we entered the 2019 legislative session hoping to give some of that back to the citizens, across the aisle, more money meant more growth in government.

But even with this unprecedented enormous growth in state revenues, the majority party in Olympia decided more was needed. They passed legislation to raise taxes by $2 billion over the next four years to fund their $52.4 billion budget, which raises spending by 18% over current levels. We wonder how many of you will see an 18% increase in your family budget over the next two years?

A new increase to the business and occupation tax and a tax hike on oil refineries contribute to a wallet-gouging $1.16 billion rise in taxes. While some legislative colleagues claim this higher tax is another way to help the environment, the truth is it will hurt refinery workers, the communities they live in, and all of us at the pump with increased gas prices.

Many legislators in both the House and Senate fought against these proposals and offered amendments to lessen the damage done to our citizens, but to no avail.

These attempts further displayed the ideological differences we’re seeing from many Seattle-centric legislators who view tax increases from an ideology standpoint, not necessarily out of need. This has created a majority viewpoint that wants more government, more programs, more control over your money and time – things we don’t agree with.

Further, the Legislature’s answer for addressing the ongoing challenges in allocation of education funding was to punt it back to local property taxpayers in the form of increased levy lids.

Instead of the state assisting school districts’ adaptation to the new system brought about by the state Supreme Court’s McCleary ruling, the majority’s answer was to continue the inequity of the haves and have nots. Unfortunately, this places us once again on a path leading to an overreliance on local levies, a move that could bring about McCleary 2.0.

In addition, there were at least 25 bills the majority party was unable to pass through the conventional legislative process that ended up in the back of the budget as “budget provisos.” Several of these were high-profile bills dealing with K-12 sex education, environmental justice, studying removal of the Snake River Dams, and an income tax study.

If you control both legislative bodies and the governor’s mansion and still can’t get your bill through the process, maybe there is something seriously wrong with your ideas? Surreptitiously slipping wholescale policy proposals into the back of the budget needs to stop. It lacks legislative integrity and transparency.

All three of us worked hard this session to pass bills and fund local capital projects that will benefit our district. From veteran service officers, to wolf management and tracking, fire prevention, forest management and others, we continue to work on issues that reflect our shared priorities, values and concerns.

This budget, however, is not one of those things. It infringes upon our individual and financial freedoms and puts small businesses at risk. In our opinion, the Democrats’ budget does not put people first.