Citizens should feel empowered to share ideas, critiques on state budget

OP-ED by Reps. Joel Kretz and Shelly Short

Our economy is struggling – our local papers are streamlining to save money, our small employers are cutting back expenses and our families are slimming down household budgets to focus on top priorities. These are the steps folks living in the real world take to stay afloat when times get tough. Our state budget should reflect the same principles and show the same discipline.

Both the House and the Senate showed us their state budget plans to pay for the daily operations of state government this week. We have concerns about tax increases in the budgets and we also have concerns about where the most drastic cuts were made. But, this is your budget, too, and we want to hear what you think.

As an example: Among our disappointments are the cuts in education and health care services. However, budget writers found $538,000 in the operating and another $1.6 million in other accounts to fund climate change initiatives such as organizing the new cap and tax structure on employers that emit greenhouse gasses. We have to ask ourselves; in this budget year, is this the best use of even this relatively small amount of your tax dollars?

Both of us, like you, work for a living and understand that every tax dollar collected came from a hard-working citizen. That’s why we support prioritizing the budget to ensure our kids are educated, our most vulnerable receive the services they need and families have the unemployment benefits to help them in this rough patch.

That’s why we cannot support any expansion in state government. Instead, we believe Olympia’s leadership needs to give hard-working citizens a break. We believe some of the cuts they are making in their budgets are ways to assure you will raise your taxes when asked this year. Asking for tax increases to “buy back” essential government programs is unfair. Government should fund first things first then if anything is left, go to the next item on the list.

Another fact to consider is that Washington’s tax revenue is a little higher this two-year budget cycle than it was in 2007. The $9 billion shortfall being reported is actually the difference between the $30 billion they have to spend, and the $39 billion they would like to spend on new and expanded government programs.

Our view is the way out of this economic slump is less government spending on non-essential programs. Consumer spending drives Washington’s economy because we are dependent on sales tax revenue. Taking more of your discretionary money to grow government is the opposite of what should be done.

By looking at what government should do, and do well, we can make sure our taxes are spent in ways that make a difference in people’s lives.

We hope this information is helpful as you look for ways to participate in your government. If you would like to comment on the budget, please call us on the toll-free legislative hotline at 1-800-562-6000 or e-mail us at kretz.joel@leg.wa.gov or short.shelly@leg.wa.gov.

If you would like to look at the budget summaries online, the Senate version can be found at http://www.leg.wa.gov/Senate/Committees/WM/ and the House version is located at http://www.leg.wa.gov/house/Committees/ways.

We look forward to hearing from you and listening to your thoughts. It’s your government.

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For more information, contact: Bobbi Cussins, Public Information Officer: (360) 786-7252