We must remember that every dollar the state spends comes from a hardworking taxpayer. I believe we should base our budgets on actual revenues- not hoped for revenues. I am listing several ideas below for getting our budget back on track and preventing future spending problems.
Establish a period of public and legislative review for the state's major appropriations bills. I support the "Budget Sunshine Act," which would require a five-day waiting period before either legislative body could vote on the final operating, capital, or transportation budgets.
In 2009 and in the 2010 special session, legislators had less than 24 hours to review the final operating budget (amounting to 500 pages or more) before taking a vote on the House floor. I believe the most important decision I can make as your representatives is how to spend your money appropriately - this should take time. Shedding more light on the budget will allow myself and the other House members opportunities to find waste to cut and more efficiencies so we can save money.
The additional benefit to a five-day waiting period is that it allows you, the taxpayer, time to provide comments and suggestions. You're paying the bill; you have a right to see the receipt.
Require the Legislature to adopt a balanced budget. It comes as a shock to many that only the governor is required to propose a balanced budget. I believe we should remove the temptation to borrow money through long-term bonds to pay for daily expenses. This credit card spending does not make any financial sense and only leads to more problems down the road.
Fund education first in the budget. Our state constitution states education shall be "the paramount duty of the state." Yet year after year students and teachers suffer as schools struggle to pay for transportation, special education and technology. In my opinion it is wrong to balanced the budget on the backs of our children's future. That's why we need to "fund education first" before any other operating expenses are discussed. Our constitution is clear where our priorities lie, and so should our budgets.
Require a fiscal note to be established before final passage of any bill in the Legislature. We should never approve a program or service before knowing the full cost. The state should not be writing blank checks with taxpayer money.
Review the performance of any new state programs and share with the outcome with public. I believe assessments are important to determining the success of a program. This would allow the public to decide if something has been worth its investment and if it has fulfilled the promise made.
Make state agencies more accountable by requiring the governor's approval for significant rules made by those agencies. You the citizens are the customers of state government and unelected agency directors should be more accountable to you.
Move excess revenue in good economic years to the rainy day fund. The state should automatically move revenue in excess of 133 percent of the state's 10-year revenue growth average into the constitutionally-protected rainy day fund. In 2005-07, we saw this sort of extraordinary revenue in part from the booming housing market. If this proposal had been adopted, our state would have had $2.4 billion set aside to use during down economic times that we now face. This proposal would allow us to plan ahead and prepare for the natural booms and busts that our national and state economies have seen over the years
When our state has a more predictable budget, it greatly benefits our economy and provides an incentive for businesses to invest in Washington jobs.
Frequently asked questions
1. What is the 'priorities of government' approach?
It is a method for distributing funding based on the highest priorities of government. For example, the state Constitution states that education is the ‘paramount duty of the state.’ As such, this would be the highest priority of the state and receive the greatest funding. We believe in funding programs that give taxpayers a return on their investment. If a program is not doing what it set out to do, it should be carefully examined before receiving more funding.
2. How do you ensure that the most vulnerable are taken care of?
This goes back to the priorities of government. We believe we must take care of those who cannot help themselves, plain and simple. Sometimes programs overlap, helping the same people with the same thing. In this case efficiencies can be made so that more funding goes directly toward those we are trying to help, rather than getting tied up in bureaucracy.
operating budget: this budget pays for the day-to-day expenses of the state: schools, law enforcement, jails, health care, elections, etc.
capital budget: this budget is often referred to as the “construction” or “brick-and-mortar” budget. It pays for the construction of school buildings, jails, hospitals, higher education buildings, and park preservation.
transportation budget: this budget pays for the construction of state highways, bridges and ferries, as well as the maintenance and operations of traffic management, planning and real estate. It is funded primarily through gas taxes, license fees, weight fees and recently, tolls.
near-general fund: this refers to the state’s general fund as well as several dedicated fund accounts for things like water quality and drug enforcement.
dedicated fund accounts: these are funds that have been set up to use funds collected for a specific purpose. For example, the Health Services Account is funded by tobacco products taxes, alcohol taxes, a health insurance premium tax, and hospital business and occupation taxes. That account is set aside to pay for health services for low-income residents, the Basic Health Plan, and tobacco prevention and control.
Basic Health Plan: a state health insurance program aimed at providing subsidized (reduced-cost) managed care to families or individuals with a household income up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level, who do not qualify for Medicare.
fiscal note: this is essentially the price tag of a bill. When a bill is about to have a public hearing, the Legislature requests a fiscal note from the state agencies who would be in charge of carrying out the bill if it became law. They report back with the costs of the bill for staffing as well as purchasing.
emergency clause: this constitutionally-created function allows a bill to become law immediately after being signed by the governor because it is 'necessary for the immediate preservation of public peace, health or safety, support of state government and its existing public institutions.' A bill signed with an emergency clause is exempt from the citizen referendum process for changing law after it has been passed by the Legislature.
rainy day fund: this constitutionally-protected fund is essentially the state’s savings account. Any revenue collected above the spending limit in any year is deposited in the rainy day fund, also known as the Emergency Reserve Fund. A two-thirds vote on both the House and the Senate is required to take money from the rainy day fund, but only if the total budget does not exceed the spending limit.
spending limit: according the state’s budget cannot increase from one year to another more than the fiscal growth factor, which takes into account population growth and inflation. There are several exemptions from this spending limit, including dedicated fund accounts. The limit can also be increased when funds are transferred between funds.
referendum: a petition to refer acts of the Legislature to the ballot before they become law. The Legislature itself can also refer proposed legislation to voters for approval or rejection.
initiative: a proposed law by citizens that is either put on the ballot for a vote, or sent to the Legislature for its consideration.
Do you have suggestions for better budgeting practices in Olympia? Please feel free to contact me via e-mail or phone so we can discuss ways to make Washington State all it can be.“Our Government is in place to protect our rights and freedoms, not to protect us from them.”~ Dan Griffey