Dear Friends and Neighbors,
I spent this week in the district – all over the district – and the most common question from constituents is, “When are you going to finish the budget and get out of Olympia for the year?” That’s the same question I keep asking. As of today, there seems to be some movement in budget negotiations. I remain hopeful a thoughtful compromise that balances our priorities within current tax collections can be agreed upon shortly.
I hope you find this brief update informative. Please let me know your thoughts on any or all topics. I want to thank each of you who have written, called and e-mailed regarding the unsettling nature of the budget process. Like you, I hope a resolution comes soon.
In service to you,
Budget negotiations update
We are just ending the second week of the special legislative session. A lot of ideas are being discussed about what should be done to balance the state operating budget, which currently has a spending gap of roughly $1 billion. The Washington Policy Center wrote an informative piece on sustainable budgeting and the budget proposals that have been presented by the House and Senate to date. You can read it here.
As it stands today, it sounds like budget talks this week have been going much better. As I have said previously, compromise goes both ways. Each side needs to come to the table with solutions, which I hope is the outcome of the daily discussions happening in Olympia. Most of us are waiting for a call to return to Olympia once a budget solution is ironed out. However, I have gone back and forth to Olympia as part of my committee work. For example: As part of my work on the education funding task force, I was in Olympia for two days to get a detailed briefing on the education funding court case, McCleary v. State of Washington, the Supreme Court ruled on in January. I have two days of meetings and briefings early next week, and will return to the 9th District if the budget isn’t ready for a vote.
I don’t mind sharing with you that this is a very frustrating process, one in which we can’t make plans for fear that the phone will ring and we have to drop everything to return to the Capitol. Quite frankly, we’ve had plenty of time to get a sustainable budget done. We were called into special session last December where we began to tackle what we knew would be a $2 billion shortfall in the two-year budget. We addressed about a half billion dollars of it. Then, the 60-day regular session began Jan. 9 where the majority party spent about three-fourths of the time avoiding budget discussions and focusing on social issues. However, before the end of regular session, we did have two budget proposals on the table – a House Democrat budget, which received a bipartisan “no” vote, and a bipartisan (22 Republicans and three Democrats) Senate budget. Citizens rightly are asking why both the House and Senate budget authors couldn’t come together and hammer out a compromise at that time, and you deserve an answer. But, at this time, all we know is there is disagreement between the House majority party and the Senate bipartisan budget group.
When I know more about when we may have the budget resolved, I will share it with you.
Editorial boards “weigh in”
In an effort to give you some idea of what our media outlets are saying about the budgeting process, below are links to several recent newspaper editorials:
- EDITORIAL: Budget plans aren’t taking state where it must go (Yakima Herald-Republic)
- EDITORIAL: The choice in Olympia: Pretty budget or real budget (The News Tribune)
- EDITORIAL: Budget fight amounts to $200 million question (Spokesman-Review)
- EDITORIAL: No more foot-dragging on the state budget (Seattle Times)
There’s some irony here because editorial boards tend to lean to the left on budget issues, but it’s clear – to them and to so many of us – that we’ve got to stop spending in ways that leave the next Legislature in a budget hole!
Meetings in district are rewarding
What do Pasco, Clarkston, Colfax, Spokane, Pullman and Colton have in common? They are just a few of the places I’ve been this week in an effort to reconnect with you and hear about the many important issues on the ground. A common question I ask everyone is, “How’s business?” I’m hearing a lot of cautious optimism out there, but it’s very cautious. With rising fuel prices, which affect nearly every aspect of our economy and our lives, no one is taking for granted that we’re out of the woods yet.
While in Clarkston, I had an opportunity to visit with Clarkston Wal-Mart’s store director, Brian Mansfield and his wife Jenny. What a fascinating process Wal-Mart follows as it enters and grows into a community. In Clarkston, Wal-Mart chose a location directly across the street from Costco. It’s been hard to tell that we are slowly heading out of a recession when you see the parking lots of both businesses. But as our former state economist Dr. Arun Raha always reminded me, “Susan, more than 90 percent of the people in our state have jobs, and that’s a lot of money in our economy. They’ve just ‘closed their wallets’ and we have to see renewed consumer confidence before our economy can become robust again.”
A big thanks to Greg and Kim Schultheis for making sure I knew the date of the Guardian Angel – St. Boniface School annual steak dinner and auction in Colton last weekend. I appreciated catching up with area farmers, including Art Schultheis, Ben Wolf, Chris Schultheis and Randy Bennett. Of course, there’s no field activity yet, but Art keeps me apprised of rainfall in the Colton area. We’ve been receiving plenty, but that’s a good thing, Art says, because much of the winter lacked the usual precipitation we receive. Tr
actors have been in the field for weeks on the western side of the district; however, most fields were snow-covered when I traveled to Pasco yesterday.
Another big thanks to our friends in the Pasco School District who warmly welcomed me yesterday. Additionally, a very special “thank you” to Valerie Smith, executive assistant to the superintendent, who arranged for this last-minute meeting and visits to schools in the district. With short notice, Valerie made sure I got to see what makes Pasco a very special district. Superintendent Saundra Hill; Asst. Superintendent Glenda Cloud; PEA representative Joy Reilly; school board members William Leggett and Ruben Peralta; and consultant Bill Pennell, who sat in for school board president Sherry Lancon, and I spent several hours discussing a variety of issues and how they might impact the administration of Pasco schools. They pointed out a specific problem with the “Lab School” bill we passed this year. I want to discuss that problem with members of the Education Committee and our committee staff in Olympia. Pasco would be uniquely challenged by the charter school bill that was introduced early in the regular session as well. The Pasco School District’s student population is made up of 75 percent students of color, of which 70 percent are Latino; 3 percent African American; 1 percent Pacific Islander; and, 25 percent Caucasian. Many students come from non-English speaking families, which means students are learning a second language at the same time they’re learning new academic material. Pasco approaches instruction in what it calls a “parallel learning” approach.
Following detailed discussions and my never-ending questions, we visited Pasco High School and met with Principal Raul Sital, Asst. Principal Charlotte Troxel and Student Achievement Specialist Efrain Cardoza. Joining us were PHS students Breanna Upchurch and Martin Salazar. The students shared their stories and their experiences, which further emphasized the way Pasco differs from others in the 9th District, and most of the schools in the state. We toured multiple classrooms and saw the “parallel learning” approach to teaching students who are learning English as their second language while learning math, science, literature and other subjects. It was very educational for me and I appreciate the informative visit.
And finally, we visited Stevens Middle School where we met with Principal Carla Lobos and assistants Kenneth Flynn and Ola Rambo King. Carla explained how Stevens is “taking an innovative approach to middle schools” by developing mini-schools within their existing walls. Personalization is their theme – they know all their kids personally, as do teachers and staff at all the schools. They speak to “the heart and the mind” in their approach to teaching. Superintendent Hill says “Pasco is a pioneer in so many ways” in its approach to student learning. The main drivers in the district are great teachers, great mentors and great teaching partners.
Yes, it’s been a very good week at home. I’m hoping to report final news about the budget to you next week.
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