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More deep cuts ahead, Fifth District legislators warn in telephone town hall
Jay Rodne and Glenn Anderson, the two elected representatives for the Snoqualmie Valley's Fifth District, talked strategies for surviving the state's massive budget shortfall in a telephone town hall meeting Wednesday evening.
About 120 people dialed in to the live conference in Olympia. After an introduction by a host, callers could ask questions of their own to the Republican legislators. The evening included a citizen poll in which respondents pointed to jobs and the economy, then the state budget, then education as their top concerns.
"Everybody understands how much thin ice is out there when it comes to the family budget," Rodne said. "We've got to hold the line on spending and make some very tough choices... We need to create a climate in which businesses can put people back to work."
Anderson said the state must eliminate frivolous programs and create jobs to get tax dollars back into the system.
Asked about priority cuts, the legislators said almost nothing will be spared.
"Really, the question is, what do we want to keep?" Rodne said. He pointed to investments in education and graduation requirements as essentials.
While the legislators urged a focus on education, Anderson told a caller that the state may need to rethink a $200 million realignment of state with federal education standards.
"We're moving a little fast here. I'm going to propose that we delay implementing those standards (until) we take a good look at how they impact teachers in the field, and the actual cost," he said.
The state spent 20 years and billions of its own dollars on its own learning standards.
While "we didn't quite get there... they're better than most," Anderson said.
Answering a citizen question about what budget crises mean to land-use policy, the legislators voiced support for regulatory loosening of rules to get the economy flowing.
"Land use has an impact on the ability to create new jobs," Rodne said. "We want clean water, we want environmental protection, but we're going to have to look at streamlining without spending years and thousands of dollars getting started."
Rodne also called for labor reform and privatization of government business, such as the liquor or printing, as ways to save money.
"We need to get the state out of the liquor business," said Rodne. He said the state could divert more funds to enforcement and save about $150 million a year by doing so.
Rodne said the state has other areas that it could privatize, such as thousands of engineering jobs.
"We could contract those functions out to the private sector, save money and at the same time provide job growth," he said. "Can we have the political courage to do that?"
Worse crises are coming. Anderson points to forecasts for budget deficits over the next six years, with a $1.5 billion unfunded employee pension liability still looming.
"Where the state is going to come up with this money, nobody knows," Anderson said. "This is just a warmup to what's coming."