Legislators at Wednesday’s League of Women Voters forum agreed
that the state’s budget situation looks dire, but they managed to
find a few rays of hope in a bleak picture.
“We wouldn’t do this if we weren’t optimists by nature,” said Rep. Christine Rolfes, D-23rd District, told a packed audience of about 70 people.
On the bright side for transportation, she said the state is on track for building three new ferry boats. And even though they are small ferries, they will relieve the overall shortage of boats once they come into the system. She said they also provide jobs for boat builders and economic stimulus for local communities once they are put into service.
Sen. Derek Kilmer, D-26th District, said that during the current recession more people than ever are looking for worker retraining programs at community colleges. Olympic College has a waiting list of 1,000 people in need of such training, he said.
Even with budget constraints the Legislature did manage to put $20 million more into worker retraining last year, and Kilmer would like to see that amount increased by taking a small percentage of worker compensation funds paid by employers and putting it into retraining.
Rep. Sherry Appleton, D-23rd District, said serving on the Health and Human Services Committee in the House is the most difficult assignment she has had in the Legislatures.
“People are talking about cutting out the Basic Health plan,” she said. “It already has a waiting list with more people on it than are in the plan. This means we have 70,000 people with no health insurance.”
She said these are the people who end up in the emergency room. And the costs, she said, are passed on to the rest of us whether we realize it or not.
Catherine Ahl, president of LWV Kitsap and moderator of the forum, asked whether cutting one major program, such as the Puget Sound Partnership, would be worth doing to save other programs.
Rolfes said that even if all spending on natural resources were eliminated it would only save half a billion dollars when the Legislature is faced with trimming $2 billion from the budget during the session beginning in January.
Rep. Larry Seaquist, D-26th District, said it’s a false dichotomy to think that cutting out spending on the environment will somehow help the economy. It’s just the opposite, he said.
“The route out of the bottom on this recession is through green jobs and better stewardship,” he said.
The others agreed that spending on cleaning up Puget Sound and other environmental initiatives will help pull us out of the recession.
The lawmakers had a hard time trying to come up with new areas for cutting.
Rep. Kathy Haigh, D-35th District, said the Legislature cut out teachers’ cost-of-living increases last session and did not fund I-728, which normally provides money for class size reduction and enrichment programs.
All of the state’s universities saw severe budget cuts, with the result that tuition is rising.
“As we talk about no new taxes,” she said, eyeing signs around the room brought by anti-tax advocates, “we need to realize we are putting the burden on our kids. They are coming out of school with huge debts.”
Despite the problems facing the state, Ahl said she was encouraged by the turnout at the meeting and hoped to see many of the same faces in Olympia next year when she and other League members go to lobby the legislators.