Legislature should finish its work

Guest column from one of our fifth district legislators.

  • Friday, October 3, 2008 4:06am
  • Opinion

There has been a lot of commentary on the airwaves lately about the Legislature dallying in a special session at taxpayer expense, including some pretty inane comments by the more ratings-ruled personalities.

I consider it a joy and a privilege to represent you in Olympia. But I must admit that I don’t appreciate the suggestion that all we are doing during the special session is having one big party at taxpayer expense.

When I accepted the responsibility and honor of representing you, I had believed that the opportunity outweighed the sacrifices that would be necessary. I have not wavered in that belief. I have been in Olympia six days and nights a week since January 8. My four children will be out of school soon. In the meantime, I am missing their field trips, their school plays and my son’s solo in the band concert. My job as a registered nurse is still on hold, the house is a wreck, and my bank statement looks even worse. I love the job you elected me to do! I also look forward every year to finishing in Olympia and returning to the community and people I love most.

I’m still in Olympia because I truly believe that it is worthwhile to “hang in here” during the special session and fight to protect your interests. I believe it is worthwhile to stay and insist that every hard-earned tax dollar you pay to state government is made to count, even though it would be nice to be home with my family, resuming a normal life.

Having the Legislature in special session costs Washington taxpayers about $24,000 per day. That’s expensive. However, even if we were to stay in session until the Fourth of July and, in so doing, wring out even $1 million (with an “m”) in savings and efficiencies to the public, it would be a net gain for taxpayers.

The proposed general fund budget is nearly $23 billion (with a “b”). Transportation proposals could add another $10 billion to $20 billion in taxes over the next decade. The transportation management efficiencies I am fighting for could provide an additional $20 billion for projects over the next decade.

With $60 billion of your hard-earned taxpayer money tantalizing every interest group in the state, I believe it is in the best interests of you, the citizens who elected me to office, to remain in special session and insist that wise decisions be made on your behalf.

In addition to the money, there are some enormously significant policy decisions before us. For example: Is it wise to spend some of the surplus in the firefighters’ pension fund? What happens if we inflate government with one-time funds? Won’t that obligate us to slash programs in two years or pass a huge tax hike?

What happens to our children if we get sidetracked by “hero” legislation (like the anti-bullying bill) and don’t fully fund education or implement school accountability measures to ensure that kids actually benefit from the increased spending?

If we don’t pay health-service providers enough to keep them solvent, won’t we crush the private sector and get government-run health care by default – without even taking a vote on it? What happens to the care of the elderly and vulnerable if we don’t prioritize those costs?

If we don’t rally in support of Washington’s farm families, what will be on our Thanksgiving tables next fall? Will we be able to expect the same abundant, safe, grown-in-Washington foods? Or will our children be eating imported apples sprayed with pesticides that were banned long ago in the United States?

Can we even calculate the costs, in failed businesses, lost jobs and changed lives, if we do not address small-business concerns about the proposed ergonomics rules?

Should we go along with a court ruling to release high-risk sex offenders into the community, or hammer out an agreement to build a special commitment center for such extremely dangerous criminals? Needless to say, no one has volunteered to host the facility.

What happens to our quality of life if we cannot have affordable housing, affordable power and enough water for our growing communities?

The Legislature could be adjourned in a day or two if I, and others like me, decided we were willing to go home without movement on these and other important issues. Most of the other legislators here in special session at the state Capitol also have families that they’d like to be home with. I am convinced, however, along with many of them, that it will cost our state far more in the future, not only in dollars, but also in terms of safety and the quality of life we enjoy, if we do not invest the time (and resulting special session costs) to address these issues now.

Therefore, I am committed to stay here for as long as it takes to do my best for you, even if it means being away for a longer period of time. I know already that I will go home with less than I hope for on your behalf. But I won’t go home with less than I think can, and should, be accomplished.

We have an energy crisis, a transportation crisis, a drought and a looming economic crisis. We adapted to tighter quarters after the earthquake and rejected suggestions for an emergency adjournment because we believed it was critical to stay and to fight for the issues that are important to our state. Is that fight to protect your interests any less critical now that the regular session has ended?

Now is the most important time to stand firm on the issues that are important for my family and yours. It’s not easy with a partisan tie in the House. We spend much of our time in unofficial huddles of between two and 60 people, trying to build coalitions of support for solutions that can work for everyone across our diverse state.

I don’t want to spend one more day, or one more dollar, than is necessary to bring this session to a successful conclusion. The cost of a special session, while disconcerting, pales in comparison to what’s at stake for the future of our state. That’s why I am prepared, along with most of my Republican colleagues, to stay until the job is done – no matter how long it takes.

Rep. Cheryl Pflug, R-Maple Valley, represents the 5th District. She is serving her second term.

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