Anger and disappointment – largely directed at Gov. Christine Gregoire and west side Democrats – were the big themes at last Saturday’s 4th District legislative town hall meeting at University High School.
Republican Reps. Larry Crouse and Matt Shea – Sen. Bob McCaslin sat the meeting out as he is still recovering from heart surgery – brought the 50 assembled up to speed on the latest goings-on in Olympia during what
Crouse characterized as “the most difficult session” he’s been involved with in his eight terms as a legislator.
“We weren’t listened to at all,” Crouse said.
Before opening the forum to questions, the representatives gave a brief run-down of the state budget, which was course-corrected during this year’s short session in order to patch a $2.8 billion shortfall. While there were over $700 million in cuts made – much to the legislators’ approval – there rest was taken care of through one-time fixes (about $1.3 billion) and raising taxes on items like bottled water, soda and cigarettes.
“We’ve told (our fellow legislators) for years that there would be an economic downturn,” Crouse said. “We should have been saving for a rainy-day fund.”
Instead of making additional cuts – about $500 million could have been pruned from a fat-laden Department of Social and Health Services, the legislators said – Democrats, who outnumber Republicans in both the state House and Senate, “knew the destination they wanted to go – raise taxes,” Crouse said.
“We’ve done almost nothing to reform government,” Crouse said. “We’ve got to change our spending habits.”
That was the message Crouse gave in January before going into the short session, which was extended until mid-April. But – instead of looking toward possible solutions offered by Republicans – Crouse and Shea both said it was inevitable that Initiative 960, which required a two-thirds majority to raise taxes, would be suspended. Any voter initiative may be done away with after two years.
Shea said that matters aren’t helped, financially, when the state has the ability to borrow on “assets” that don’t really exist.
“We can now borrow money against energy savings as an asset,” Shea announced, which was met by groans from the audience. “I don’t know who would buy those bonds – there’s nothing backing it.”
Eastern Washington also has the added burden of being made up of six “donor counties” which produce more money for the state than it receives back in capital projects or other funding.
While this year’s town hall was about a third of the size of last year’s gathering – which was held in more cramped quarters at CenterPlace – those who showed up came ready with questions from everything from the current state of the budget to the state’s business-attractiveness – or lack thereof.
“(Idaho) Gov. Butch Otter offers a business-friendly state government,” Crouse said. “We don’t.”
After touching on concerns from alleged voter fraud to Canadian cattle trucks not stopping at weigh stations, both representatives said it will take different leaders to change the way government is run in Washington state.
“I don’t think there’s any question that the next couple of years will be difficult,” She said, adding that even if the state House (a possibility) and the Senate (a less likely proposition) were to change over to Republican majorities, there would still be a Democrat in the governor’s office “who could still veto” any bills that didn’t meet her approval.
“We have government that’s out of control,” Crouse added. “We need people to change government. You can’t change people’s minds, but you can change people.”