State budget weighs heavily on residents

Enumclaw residents expressed their concerns and opinions about the state budget deficit, possible program reforms and cuts, and how it would all affect their taxes, at a Thursday forum hosted by state Sen. Pam Roach.

Roach offered the town hall meeting at the Enumclaw Library as part of a tour to obtain a sense of what issues were important to the 31st District before she headed into legislative session on Monday. Enumclaw residents packed into the library meeting room, some of them crowded outside the door, standing on their toes to maintain their presence.

The state’s $2.6 billion budget deficit dominated discussions. According to results from a survey Roach recently conducted, of 989 respondents, 837 said they would close the deficit by re-prioritizing spending and 42 would raise taxes. 110 respondents would raise taxes if it was accompanied by program cuts and re-prioritization.

A consensus among the audience was hard to come by. Audience members weighing in ranged from those who would cut some programs and expand others, and those who would have all services privatized.

One state employee of the Department of Transportation expressed his concern that the deficit would affect state employee compensation.

“I guess what I’m wondering about the deficit is, first, will the state honor the contract (with WSDOT) from last year, and second, will the Senate vote in raises for themselves at the end of the term?”

One audience member commented: “They always do.”

Roach contended that she supported the policy of senators voting for their own raises because voters can hold them accountable. But she was suspicious of the current policy in which a commission chooses to raise salaries, removing accountability from elected officials, she said.

As for the labor contract, Roach said she believes it could be on the chopping block, something Republicans would oppose.

“We’re in a recession and our district has near 10 percent unemployment,” Roach said. “I would say we probably are at 10 percent, if you think about 60- or 65-year-old residents who give up looking for work, or people who decide to go back to school.”

Another man in the audience said he saw state employment as an incorrect solution to unemployment. Roach warned that one shouldn’t target state employees too broadly as a problem.

“But their salaries come from our taxes, don’t they?” he asked. “The state takes a bit from all of us to pay their salaries. Can you tax your way to prosperity?”

“No, I don’t think so,” Roach said, after a pause.

When asked what she would cut if she had the opportunity, Roach first said any cuts would be difficult given the Democratic majority in the Legislature. When pressed, she brought up Child Protective Services as a personal priority, citing a current 30 percent placement with relatives which she would like to raise to 70 percent.

“Do you know how much it costs to place a child outside of their family?” she asked the audience. “It’s much more expensive, and somehow they always get disorders, like ‘attachment disorder,’ and then they go to counseling. It’s an industry. So, in short, that’s what I would cut.”

Roach disagreed with one audience member who suggested privatization, because that would remove the possibility of government transparency.

When one man stated his displeasure at Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn’s desire to remove the WASL, Roach responded that she agreed with Dorn on the WASL and on other ideas he has presented, such as a move to three-year tenure for teachers and a removal of the master’s degree requirement for teachers. She even expressed support for President Barack Obama’s plans for education, such as replacing the bottom 5 percent of schools with charter institutions and merit-based pay for teachers.

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