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Expect economy to dominate Olympia session

The lingering gloomy economy continues to dominate Washington politics as state lawmakers prepare for their annual trek to Olympia.

This year’s legislative session, an abbreviated 60-day exercise – as opposed to the every-other-year, 120-day variety – kicks off Monday. The Legislature always launches the second Monday in January.

During long sessions, two-year budgets are drawn and reams of bills are submitted for consideration. During short sessions, the revenues and expenditures are addressed to keep it in line with the legal requirement for a balanced budget and far fewer bills are introduced.

Legislators will head to the capitol knowing they face a shortfall in excess of $2 billion. The difference can be made up either through budget cuts or finding new ways to increase revenues.

The 31st Legislative District is represented by Sen. Pam Roach and Reps. Dan Roach and Christopher Hurst. The mother-son Roach duo are Republicans and Hurst is a member of the Democratic Party, which controls the governor’s office, the House and the Senate.

Here are their views on the coming 60-day session.

Pam Roach

While the immediate need is to fill the budget gap, Roach said, there’s a larger issue that needs to be addressed.

“We should be placing an emphasis on creating jobs and keeping people employed by making it easier for businesses to make money,” she said. “We don’t make the system better by raising taxes.”

Roach is adamant that she will not vote for any tax increase, but figures the Democrats, who hold the power, will be pushing to increase some existing taxes and implement some new ones.

Roach said she will introduce legislation making government more open and accountable and forward a bill that would allow school credit for students who have received private instruction. If youngsters participate in club gymnastics, she said, “why shouldn’t that be worth a P.E. credit?” Another coming Roach bill would grant grandparents legal, courtroom standing in child custody cases and enforce the presumption that children should be kept with biological family members whenever possible, rather than becoming wards of the state.

Roach also is keeping an eye on Rainier School, the facility for developmentally delayed adults in Buckley. Gov. Chris Gregoire has embraced a suggestion that the decades-old institution be phased out and residents moved to smaller, community-based facilities.

She has a vision that Rainier School not only be maintainied, but expanded to serve a larger part of the population.

Chris Hurst

Current state legislators are having to deal with “the most difficult budget to hit the state in a couple of generations,” Hurst said, noting that the projected deficit has climbed to approximately $2.6 billion.

And, while some in his party might favor across-the-board tax increases to bridge the gap, Hurst is not among them.

The bulk of the state’s revenue stream comes from the sales tax, the business and occupation tax charged to businesses and property tax. Hurst said he will oppose any move to increase any of those, arguing that tax hikes will only serve to extend the recession.

“I’m of the belief that this is an opportunity to make government leaner,” he said.

Hurst hopes the deficit will be filled by dipping into the state’s “rainy day” fund and making cuts. The last areas he hopes to touch are public safety and K-12 education.

As chairman of the House Public Safety Committee, Hurst vows to review laws that allow people like Maurice Clemmons, the man who recently gunned down four Lakewood police officers, to roam the streets.

Hurst also opposes the Democratic governor when it comes to Rainier School and has already joined the fight to keep the facility open.

Dan Roach

“It’s all budget,” the five-term legislator said, eyeing the start of the 2010 session. “A $2 billion adjustment in an off year is a huge problem.”

The problem goes back to the good times, when money was available, but the Legislature was too generous, he said.

“We really overspent in the boom years,” Roach said.

This time around, he remains opposed to the implementation of new taxes as a way to improve the revenue picture, but fears the majority party will push for across-the-board increases.

Roach plans to introduce a bill aimed at helping businesses succeed. It’s a revised version of a bill he attempted a couple of years ago. It would modify the state’s business and occupation tax so it’s phased in during a five-year period.

“It gives an incentive for new business to start up or other business to move here,” he said, arguing that such a move will help stimulate Washington’s shaky economy.

As the father of an autistic child, Roach also plans to join the fight to protect Rainier School from those who prefer that such institutions go away.

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