Dear Friends and Neighbors,
I recently wrote an article that appeared in several of our local papers entitled, “How to write a responsible state operation budget.” (You can read the article here.) In the column, I wrote of how House Republicans wrote a budget proposal this year that is based on the Priorities of Government model used by Gov. Gary Locke back in 2002 when the state was facing serious budget problems.
The article noted “House Republicans identified three core services as priorities of government: education, public safety and protection of the state's most vulnerable citizens.” These are the areas of government I believe should be funded first in the state operating budget. And I believe most citizens would agree that these are essential services for people throughout Washington.
So it continues to amaze me when we talk about the priorities of government in the state operating budget, the majority party in the Legislature would rather save salmon than people.
An e-mail I received just before the legislative session began in January touted that “the Washington Salmon Recovery Funding Board awarded nearly $30 million in grants to organizations in 28 counties across Washington” for “important salmon recovery efforts.” Part of that funding comes from the state capital budget.
You might recall from an article I wrote in September that “more than half of the capital budget is funded by state general obligation bonds (money borrowed by the state) that are paid back over time with interest from the operating budget.” Essentially, we are borrowing money to save salmon – money that must be paid back from the state operating budget, which is the same budget that funds education, public safety and programs for the state's most vulnerable citizens.
I live just up the hill from the Snohomish River. There are record returns of salmon coming up that river.
In a news release issued by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife on Feb. 28, the headline read, “Strong returns of Columbia River chinook salmon, coastal coho projected.”
And just a note to our sport fishermen: I am a supporter of recreational fishing, and I enjoy fishing as well. So I am not out to slash funding for recreational fisheries. But my point is that the salmon are doing great. And yet the proposed House Democrat supplemental operating budget is making deep cuts in these three priorities of government – services essential to people – while directing millions of dollars for salmon recovery.
I went through their proposed budget. Here's what I found:
- $278,000 for aquatic lands enhancement (to help fish);
- $369,000 for salmon grants;
- $5,001,000 for salmon recovery; and
- $9,484,000 for the Forest and Fish Support Account (includes $1 million for “scientific studies”).
Remember, this is the supplemental operating budget that would provide funding through the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends in June 2013. In other words, it's the funding added to the original budget passed last year.
Here's a great comparison that makes my point: Several days ago, Republican amendments to the House Democrat budget were brought to the floor for a vote. We proposed to restore funding that was cut in the Democrat budget to the following areas:
- Amendment 1231: $12.8 million for mental health services, developmentally disabled programs and services;
- Amendment 1229: $21.2 million for developmentally-disabled programs and services; and
- Amendment 1230: $6.7 million for long-term care programs and services.
Democrats rejected every one of these amendments. However, they approved several of their own amendments, including:
- Amendment 1228: $5.2 million to restore funding for cuts to salmon grants, Growth Management grants and shoreline assistance.
We don't have enough money to protect our state's most vulnerable citizens, and yet millions are being spent to protect salmon and promote environmental interests. How did this become a priority in the budget over people?
I believe saving salmon is a noble cause, as well as ensuring a clean environment. The 39th District has some of the most pristine areas of the state. We certainly want to keep it that way for future generations. But somehow, extreme environmentalism has become the dominating force in Olympia, surpassing real people's needs.
I've not given many floor speeches this year, but when I discovered this proposed budget places fish before people, I rose to object.
Here are a few excerpts from it:
“Instead of providing funding for our mentally i
ll, we're putting millions of dollars into Growth Management grants. We're putting millions of dollars into salmon grants.
“I love salmon too, but as one of the gentlemen mentioned here earlier this evening, we do have record returns of many of our species. So we must be doing something right there. But we are doing something dog-gone wrong when it comes to taking care of the most vulnerable in our society. We've got our priorities mixed up. And I'm sorry if you disagree with me in this, Mr. Speaker, but I'm going to put people and kids in front environmental issues, like trees and salmon, every day of the week! Love me or hate me for it – people are more important.”
I wrote about this issue in December 2009. (Read my article here.) More people responded to that article than most others I have written and agreed with me. As I said back then, “There's no tangible goal line to satisfy environmentalists. Taxpayers' money is spent, but we will never reach a measurable goal line because it doesn't exist, and it never will.”
As long as we put fish ahead of people in the budget, I will be voting NO. It's time to change our priorities. I choose PEOPLE over salmon!
In your service,