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31st District legislators reflect on a long session
The 2012 legislative session came to a close April 11 after a regular session, a couple of special sessions and plenty of arm twisting.
As the effects of the recession continue, state lawmakers have been forced into some dark budget corners.
Despite the difficulties, the 31st District legislators each said they came out with some positive results from their positions.
Rep. Chris Hurst, D-Greenwater, said the moderate wing of the Democratic Party in the House that he is part of pushed through essential budget reforms.
“I have been a fiscal conservative all the years I have been here,” Hurst said. “I am not one who hates government, but it has to be efficient as it can be.”
Hurst pointed to the pension reform for state employees this year and unemployment compensation and workers compensation reforms last session as some of the changes he and the moderates moved to the front of the line.
The good news we did major reform without cuts to education,” Hurst said. “For too many years we have been living on borrowed money. It had to come to an end.”
Hurst said he knew some were upset with the pension system reform affecting early retirement payments, “but we could not afford the cost.”
He said one of the top reforms which will go to voters is a requirement for a two-year balanced budget that must be sustainable for four years.
Hurst said Rep. Cathy Dahlquist, R-Enumclaw, also voted for the reforms.
“Cathy voted for all the reform bills,” Hurst said. “We stuck together on the tough bills. I’m proud of her and (proud of) working together.”
Dahlquist said the highlights for her during the session were pension reforms for state employees and a study on health benefits for teachers and certified staff.
“We are looking for transparency and collecting data to see if we can offer better health care at a lower cost,” she said.
The representative also noted a teacher evaluation measure is in the works.
“This is to make sure we have the best teachers in front of the students,” Dahlquist said.
She said the evaluation would include teachers, principals and student improvement.
“There are also pieces in there for training,” Dahlquist said.
She said her biggest disappointment was the budget’s ending fund balance, which is the reason she voted against the budget.
“It looks like we have a $230 million more than we have because of an accounting maneuver,” Dahlquist said. “All we really have is $82 million. It costs $41 million a day to run the government.”
The state is placing about $230 million on the books, which is local sales tax revenue, for about a month, which will be redistributed to cities and other jurisdictions.
Dahlquist said she expects the governor will call the Legislature back into session in September.
“I can’t imagine this is going to pan out,” she said.
The representative also said she was dissatisfied that education was not removed from the general fund and placed where it is funded first.
“It is the right thing to do,” she said or placing a priority on education funding.
Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, said the top issue for her was there were no tax increases passed.
“That is the result of some tough negotiating. And we did it without hurting education,” she said.
Roach also pointed to the four-year balanced budget measure as very important.
The senator said the $3 million for capital improvements she was able to get into the Senate budget for Rainier School in Buckley was a highlight for the session.
She also was able to get $100,000 allotted for a study to create a long-term vision for the school that would benefit the state and region. The study would look at how to best serve the needs of the developmentally disabled community including a respite care center for families and caregivers.
“We are putting up an able defense of Rainier,” Roach said. “For many years some people have wanted to close the school. Now we’ve come together and we are making progress.”
Roach said she has written a white paper on the school and plans to continue working to keep it open.
“We are defending Rainier and the economy of the Plateau,” Roach said.
The senator said she is not sure if the money for the study, which was increased to $600,000 in the House, will make it past the governor’s veto pen.
She also said she does not take all the credit for the money allotted to Rainier, because the House members also worked with the issue, allotting money for capital improvements and the study.
Hurst said the $3 million for capital improvements was an essential element for both the school and economy of the Plateau.