Dear Friends and Neighbors,
You've probably heard there's a budget shortfall of more than $5 billion dollars projected for the next two years (2011-13). Soon we will be dealing with that budget. But we have an immediate problem with the operating budget for the CURRENT fiscal cycle (2009-11), which ends June 30. And that's a $600 million dollar shortfall.
Several days ago, we took the first critical vote of the year on the 2009-11 budget. Both the House Republicans and the majority party submitted proposals to shrink the budget deficit.
Going through this process and realizing there's not enough money to fund everything, we have to make priority decisions. House Republicans are asking the question – Is this a NEED or a WANT? In other words, what do we NEED to fund rather than what we'd like to fund? And for us, it comes down to three priorities:
• Public Safety
• Protection of our most vulnerable citizens.
We've also had to do a reality check. Which programs will have to be eliminated when we get to the big two-year budget? And why pay for programs today that we can't afford tomorrow?
Our proposal would have eliminated programs that are unlikely to survive the next round of budget cuts, including the General Assistance Unemployable Program – also known as GAU.
GAU is supposed to be temporary assistance for the truly disabled as they are transitioned to Social Security. Instead, it has become a long-term cash assistance program for many who are already getting treatment, food and housing assistance from other sources.
The federal government has a transition program for these people. So really, GAU is a redundant program and more of a “want” rather than a “need” in our budget.
We had to make the choice of whether to keep a redundant, unsustainable program, such as GAU – or protect funding for education – especially the Kindergarten to 4th grade classrooms. Republicans chose to protect education.
Funding education is not only a need, it's a state constitutional mandate. It's our paramount duty.
Unfortunately, the majority party chose instead to save GAU and retroactively eliminate funding for K through 4 class-size reductions. That means they're going all the way back to September to remove those allocations from school districts which have already hired the teachers. That will be devastating to schools. Where are they going to find that money?
My House Republican colleagues and I offered a better solution – funding education at higher levels than the spending bill proposed.
Unfortunately, the majority party's education-cutting proposal was adopted by a vote of 55-43. I voted no.
Click here if you would like to read the press release I issued following the vote.
We will have more of these budget debates and votes on the budget in the future. It will be essential to create a priorities-based budget that funds the needs of state government, not the wants. If a state program is not a priority, we should question whether it must exist. And we must review all state agencies to see if what they are doing can be carried out in a more cost-effective way.
As the session moves forward, I encourage you to become involved. Go to the Legislature's Web site at www.leg.wa.gov where you can follow bills and committee hearings.
Provide your input through letters, e-mail, testifying before a committee, and through the toll-free legislative hotline at 1-800-562-6000.
I also encourage you to check for the latest news and information from my Web page at: houserepublicans.wa.gov/Kristiansen. On my Web site, you can e-mail me with your thoughts and concerns about legislation. I look forward to hearing from you.
Thank you for the opportunity to serve you.
In your service,