Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Committee work for the first half of this scheduled 105-day session is finished. Hundreds of bills that survived the Legislature's self-imposed deadlines are now heading to the House floor for consideration.
That's where I am tonight as we listen to extended debate over controversial legislation. Up until our next deadline a week from today, we will be working long hours, late nights and this weekend in floor sessions, where all 98 House members have an opportunity to amend, accept or reject the proposals that have cleared the committee process. We must pass the remaining House bills by March 7, or they are considered “dead” for the session. Bills that are necessary to implement the budget are exempt from this deadline.
On March 17, the state Revenue Forecast Council will release its quarterly report, which will provide a clearer indicator of how much money the state will take in. From that, a budget will be crafted that will attempt to address a projected $6 billion shortfall.
As we go through this exercise, my top priority in the budget will continue to be education.
Below is an article I will be sharing with our local newspapers which explains my position and the position of my fellow House Republicans on the issue of education. It is our state's paramount duty.
I also invite your comments. E-mail me through my Web site at: houserepublicans.wa.gov/Kristiansen or call my office.
Once again, it is an honor to serve you.
Education: Our state's paramount duty
By Rep. Dan Kristiansen
Several people have asked me why I and my fellow House Republicans swam against the tide and voted against a $360 million budget reduction bill. The answer in one word is “education.”
With only four months remaining in the state's 2009-2011 fiscal cycle, House Bill 1086 was put forward to help close a $600 million shortfall in the current budget which runs through June 30.
Both times the bill was brought to a vote in the House – on Jan. 24 and again on Feb. 18 – it not only contained deep cuts to class-size reduction funding for kindergarten through 4th grade (K-4), but it also cut retroactively, going all the way back to September when additional teachers were hired.
Most disturbing is that it made these cuts to education in order to preserve funding for the General Assistance Unemployable (GAU) program.
So what is GAU?
It's a program that provides cash grants and medical benefits to adults without dependents who are unable to work due to a physical or mental incapacity. According to a study of the program by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy, “Most GAU recipients are unmarried white males, age 30 to 55, with a physical disability. Additionally, over half of GAU clients have mental illness and/or substance abuse problems.” Only 18 other states provide assistance to similar populations, but Washington provides a “higher-than-average cash grant.” Most GAU recipients also qualify for federal assistance, including Social Security benefits.
Article IX, Section 1 of the Washington State Constitution says, “It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders.”
Nowhere in the state constitution does it say that our paramount duty is to give cash grants to people with substance abuse problems. Education is our state's paramount duty!
My House Republican colleagues and I supported an amendment that would have protected K-4 funding while eliminating GAU funding. Unfortunately, the majority party did not accept this amendment. Now, local school districts will be scrambling to make up this money because the rug has been pulled out from under them to protect the cash flow for those with substance abuse problems.
It's disturbing to me that if this is the route the state Legislature is taking on the current year's $600 million shortfall, which direction will it go when we begin writing the 2011-2013 biennial budget, which is now projected to be nearly $6 billion in the red?
Budgeting is about setting priorities. Our top House Republican priority in the budget is education.
It's not just our top priority because of its listing in the state constitution. We know that education is the foundation of our economy, society and democracy. It is the key to our prosperity as a state and nation.
That's why House Republicans have proposed “Fund Education First” legislation – House Bill 1415 and House Joint Resolution 4210. We believe Washington's budget writers should fund education first before any other state program.
It's also why we fought on the House floor in 2009 – successfully, I might add – to stop House Bill 1776, which would have cut levy equalization by $60 million. Levy equalization is a promise the Legislature made to schools statewide to ensure that areas with lower property values, state-owned lands and other issues that limit the local tax base, get an equal share of state funds. We want to make sure children in Arlington, Darrington, Gold Bar, Granite Falls, Sedro-Woolley and other schools throughout the 39th District have the same opportunity for a great education as those students in the richer tax-base of Bellevue. We will continue the fight to protect this funding.
We also believe the state should make sure fundamentals are funded before new, trendy and unfunded mandates are passed down to school districts. And we also think local school districts and parents know what's best for children – not the state. That's why we've introduced House Bill 1414 to allow school districts to opt-out of certain unfunded state mandates and House Bill 1025, which includes 21 examples of school obligations that could be eliminated, softened or suspended.
Back to the budget. Some difficult decisions will be needed in the next two months of the legislative session to close such an enormous fiscal hole. In the first budget votes we took, when faced between giving cash grants to drug- and alcohol-addicted people – or giving our youngest students a better education, House Republicans stood on the side of kids. We will
continue to do that in the remaining months of this legislative session, because providing for the education of our children is not only our state's paramount duty, it is the right thing to do.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Rep. Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, serves as chairman of the Washington House Republican Caucus and represents the 39th Legislative District. He can be contacted at (360) 786-7967 or e-mail him through his Web site at: houserepublicans.wa.gov/Kristiansen. His office address is: P.O. Box 40600, Olympia, WA 98504-0600.
In your service,