Legislators to do business Monday

Dollars and cents will be the prime topic of conversation – but certainly not the only item on the agenda – when legislators gather in Olympia Monday to kick off their 2011 session.

It will be a long session that calls for the drafting of a biennial budget and no one expects things to go smoothly – not with a state budget initially dominated by a glaring discrepancy between expected revenues and anticipated expenditures. A one-day special session in December created a working document that slashed money from enough state agencies to leave nearly everyone unhappy.

But, unlike the federal government, there’s no deficit spending in Olympia. Washington budgets must be balanced.

Representing the 31st Legislative District will be Pam Roach in the state Senate and Christopher Hurst and Cathy Dahlquist in the House of Representatives.

Roach takes a wealth of experience to Olympia, now the No. 2 Republican in the Senate in terms of seniority, trailing only Spokane Valley’s Bob McCaslin. She has been at odds with other Republicans in leadership positions, but makes it clear her primary concern is representing the 31st District, not catering to party bigwigs.

Roach believes the coming session will see “a cooperative effort to pull the budget into constitutional parameters.” To her, that means no new taxes, making state departments more accountable and cutting budgets for agencies that aren’t earning their keep.

She advocates for zero-based budgeting and setting one simple priority: “taking care of those who can’t take care of themselves.” Education and public safety also are high on Roach’s list of favored efforts.

“There are some sacred cows in government and there shouldn’t be,” Roach said, placing Child Protective Services at the top of her list. Roach has been a vocal critic of certain CPS actions and will be introducing legislation that would improve the odds of children remaining with family members, rather than being handed over to foster parents.

“They’re still not doing their job when it comes to protecting children,” Roach says of CPS staffers and administrators.

Roach also vows to introduce legislation that would close loopholes in the hiring of public schoolteachers.

She voted against the budget introduced during December’s special session because “I couldn’t agree with some of the areas that were cut.”

Hurst is no stranger to Olympia, heading into his FIFTH two-year term. Unlike Roach, he supported the result of the special session.

“I was really impressed with how the session went,” he said. “I saw a major piece of legislation (passed) in a bipartisan fashion.”

He knows some powerful interests weren’t particularly happy, though, with some state employees heading the list of those doing the grumbling.

“At the end of the day, we can’t keep spending like we have” Hurst says in response. “We’re facing reality whether they like it or not.”

Hurst has always run under the Democratic flag, but this year listed “Independent Democrat” as his party preference on the ballot. He has irritated party leaders with some of his comments.

“Democrats were unwilling to say no to some of their friends the past few years,” he said, referring to unions representing state employees. Those days have to come to an end, he maintains.

He envisions a budget that reduces the number of state employees and halts automatic, annual pay increases and cost-of-living adjustments when time are tough.

“Citizens are tired of party line politics running Olympia,” Hurst said, explaining it will take a bipartisan effort to arrive at a spending plan this time around.

Unlike her seasoned legislative cohorts, Dahlquist is a newcomer to the Olympia scene, elected for the first time in November. She has served public office before, twice elected to the Enumclaw School Board, but the Legislature presents an entirely different set of challenges.

The Republican was in Olympia for the special session, but only as an inside observer. Her term doesn’t begin until next week, so she was unable to cast a vote in December.

What she saw was “an opportunity for Washington government to readjust to what our priorities are.”

Looking at bills she may introduce, Dahlquist stays true to her campaign promise to look after the interests of public education and small business. For example, she has started research on a bill that would curtail mandates handed down from the Legislature to school districts that do not include the funding necessary to put the plan into action.

The co-owner of a small business, Dahlquist has emphasized a need to make Washington more friendly to those attempting to start or maintain a small enterprise. Last week, she said she would look at legislation easing the burden on those in the construction industry.

“I don’t know that there’s going to be a ton of new policy” coming out of the 2011 legislative session, Dahlquist said. “If there is, it better not be about money, it better not cost anything.”

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