By Sen. Linda Evans Parlette, R-Wenatchee
In a short time, we begin a legislative session in which anything can happen – more true in 2016 than in most years. The key thing to remember is that, at least on the Senate side, we will hold true to the priorities that have guided us since the Majority Coalition Caucus was founded. Jobs, education and the budget.
These three words have been a powerful unifying force for our caucus. They are the issues the people of this state hold most dear. When Republicans in the Senate joined with Democratic colleagues to form our coalition three years ago, we placed our emphasis on the issues that bring us together. Responsible spending. Effective government. Reforms aimed at developing a world-class education system. And maintaining and improving our state’s business climate, to bring our economy back to life after a devastating recession.
We have already seen tremendous results. We dramatically increased funding for K-12 education, without a general tax increase. We cut college tuition, a move so popular that many of our friends on the other side of the aisle are claiming the achievement as their own. We did it by giving our schools a priority they have not enjoyed in 30 years – by allocating to education most of the growth in tax revenue generated by our rebounding economy.
The transportation package we passed last year reflected the same basic idea. Our goal is to restore the public’s faith, by curbing waste and mismanagement that bloat the cost of road projects, by finishing highways the state has been talking about for years, and by allocating money for road maintenance – something previous packages unfortunately left out.
I highlight these accomplishments because they clearly would not have happened without the Majority Coalition Caucus. There have been many others. Most of the time Olympia follows the path of least resistance — by throwing money at a problem and calling for tax increases, rather than asking how well that money is spent and saying no to powerful constituencies. We have made taxes a true last resort.
Our principles become all the more important in a year like this one. Even now, with the session a few days ahead, we still don’t know about some of the major issues we will be facing. We’re awaiting a final court ruling on Initiative 1366, which could knock a billion-dollar hole in our budget, unless the Legislature does the right thing and lets the people vote on a two-thirds-for-taxes constitutional amendment. It also appears likely the Legislature will be dealing with a carbon-tax initiative, but we don’t know whether that will be the only proposal for the fall ballot.
The budget issue before us this year isn’t as daunting as some would have you believe. We’ll have more than enough money to make it through the current biennium. Some say that if projected spending continues, we’ll be a half-billion dollars short by the end of the next biennium – that is, on June 30, 2019. If this remains an issue, future spending is something we can correct. More importantly, this early warning demonstrates the success of our four-year balanced-budget law, which requires that budgets be sustainable, that we avoid new spending we can’t afford over the long term –and that we take the matter seriously.
We know we’ll be continuing our work to improve funding for basic education, because it is the right thing to do. We’ll be dealing with policies that position our state at the forefront of the clean-energy revolution, without punishing the economy. Policy initiatives will include improvements to our mental health system, and we will consider ways to continue innovations in education, like charter schools.
As we do this, we will be building on the results we have already achieved – a record the state can be proud of.
Sen. Linda Evans Parlette, R-Wenatchee, is chair of the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus.