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Dear Friends and Neighbors,
A lot has happened in Olympia since my last e-mail update. It was announced state revenue projections have dropped again, workers' compensation reform is being tied up in the House by majority leadership, we are still waiting to see operating and capital budget proposals with 25 days remaining in the regular session, and we have scheduled an event for you to communicate with your representatives from the 42nd Legislative District.
Telephone town hall
You are invited to participate in a telephone town hall meeting hosted by Rep. Jason Overstreet and I on Monday, April 4. The community conversation will begin at 6:30 p.m. and run one hour. You can join the event by calling 1-877-229-8493 and entering code 17803. Once connected, you can listen in, ask questions and take part in polls.
This is a great, convenient way to connect with constituents in the district while we are in Olympia. There are still a lot of important decisions to be made during the final few weeks of the legislative session and we want to hear your questions and concerns.
If you have any comments or questions before the event, you can contact me directly at 360) 786-7854 or email@example.com.
Economic revenue forecast
On March 17, the state's chief economist, Dr. Arun Raha, released the quarterly revenue forecast for Washington.
The revenue is expected to be $778 million less for the combined 2009-11 and 2011-13 budgets:
- $79.8 million less for the 2009-11 budget, creating a $229 million shortfall.
- $698.4 million less for the 2011-13 budget, creating a $5.1 billion shortfall.
This means the 2011 Legislature must address a projected total shortfall of $5.1 billion. I say projected because that assumes a budget of $37 billion, or roughly a 15 percent increase. In the current economy we cannot expect to increase spending by 15 percent.
The most important point is this: Revenue for the 2011-13 biennium is expected to be 13.8 percent HIGHER than the 2009-11 biennium. Yes, that is true — revenues are expected to be HIGHER than the previous two years.
Here is the revenue comparison:
2009-11: $28 billion
2011-13: $31.9 billion.
The difference: $3.86 billion higher (See chart below. To see larger version, click on it).
So when you hear revenue is down, it's down from the increase projected last November. It goes back to what many have been saying for a while…Olympia does not have a revenue problem, it is a SPENDING problem!
That said, this will require major adjustments since many, many programs were added or expanded, and even more promises were made before the downturn. Like the rest of the economy, we are now having a hangover from our years of exuberance.
Operating and Capital Budgets
With the revenue forecast projections decreasing, talk around Olympia is that a special session is looking more and more likely. We have less than four weeks remaining and we have yet to see operating or capital budget proposals. There is no reason why we cannot get our budgets done within the constitutionally-mandated 105-day regular session, and with existing state revenues. As I mentioned, we actually have more revenues coming in. Tough decisions need to be made, but let's prioritize our budget responsibilities – education, public safety, and protect our most vulnerable. Then review all the new or expanded programs, along with all the promises made over the last two biennia. We can still have a sustainable, no-gimmick, no tax budget and restore some common sense to our budgeting process.
Workers' compensation reform
One of the top priorities of our caucus this session was to focus on jobs and the economy. An important part of that is addressing the workers' compensation system for our employers. The Senate passed a workers' compensation reform bill, Senate Bill 5566, with a strong bipartisan vote, 34-15. I believe we still have an opportunity to get this passed even though labor and the House Democrat leadership are blocking the bill. I am confident we have the votes to pass it if we can get the bill to the floor for a vote. The governor is on board and the Senate did its job. Now we need to get this done in the House. Doing nothing is not an option on this issue for these reasons:
- The Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) pays $1.84 in benefits for every $1.00 in premiums it collects, the highest “combined ratio” of any public or private workers' comp insurer in the country.
- According to L&I, these costs are not sustainable without annual double-digit premium increases on employers that pay into the state fund.
- The 2008 Washington Pension System Review (Upjohn Institute) confirmed one reason for the highest number of long-term disability cases and pensions in the nation is the absence of a voluntary settlement option that exists in 44 other states.
- Total benefits paid in Washington grew from $1.3 billion in 1998 to $2.2 billion in 2008. That's an increase of 70.4 percent, compared to 34.2 percent growth for all states.
To dispel some misinformation, Senate Bill 5566 does not reduce or amend a single statutory benefit level for injured workers. Rather, it provides a more flexible benefit option to workers, giving them more choices on what is best for them and their families. The Seattle Times editorialized in favor of this legislation as did the Everett Herald and Tacoma News Tribune.
Getting people back to work and improving our economy will help address our budget situation. This legislation would give employers certainty in taxes and allow more cost controls in the system to avert complete failure.
Bills of interest
My definition of a “well” bill, House Bill 1467, passed the Senate unanimously. It was amended to include exemptions for excavation or construction of sewage systems. Because the bill was amended, the House will have to agree to the changes before the bill can be sent to the governor for her signature. While we sti
ll have a couple steps, I am not only excited to be a little closer to get my first bill through the legislative process, but also know this will help protect our agricultural industry from potential increased enforcement of regulations from the Department of Ecology.
I want you to know I respect your time and privacy. If for any reason you would no longer like to receive my e-mail updates, you may go to this link to unsubscribe. Simply enter your name, e-mail address and select “Leave.” Your friends and family can also sign up for my e-mail updates by going to this same link and selecting “Join.” Please forward this to anyone else you think might be interested in what is happening in Olympia.
Please contact me if you ever have any ideas, concerns or questions to pass along. I am here to serve you and the 42nd District.
465 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7854 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000