On Jan. 14 the Washington State Legislature will go to work. But who will they be working for and how will we judge success? What should the goals be and how should we set priorities?
In order to move our state forward, we need solid leadership based on a real plan for Washington. In the complicated, confusing, and dysfunctional atmosphere that is Olympia, our plan must be based upon rock-solid guiding principles.
1. Decide to balance the budget without raising taxes.
2. Decide on how much money will be spent.
3. Decide to implement a "priorities of government" model of budgeting.
4. Decide to focus on the budget and jobs, not social issues.
One of the great myths in Olympia is that the budget is a standalone document. "How did you vote on the budget" is a question that we are often asked.
Balancing our budget without raising taxes and engaging in a "priorities of government" model will require thousands of decisions. Here are the first four:
The first big decision -- agree to not raise taxes.
It's time to be honest about taxes. In the last election voters sent a clear message. For the fifth time in 20 years, they put a two-thirds requirement in place for new taxes, passing it with 64 percent approval. Further, 55 percent voted against taxes on oil companies and banks.
There are not enough votes in Olympia to raise taxes. This is because taxes already generate enough money to fund our priorities.
The sooner elected officials accept these facts, the sooner we can get to work setting priorities and balancing the budget. Having tax increase proposals on the table serves as a distraction that prevents necessary structural changes and preserves the status quo. That may sound great to some Olympia insiders, but it's bad news for the rest of the state.
The second big decision -- agree on how much to spend.
After we agree not to raise taxes, the second decision is how much money will be spent, or as many legislators say "how big will the sandbox be?"
Four times a year, a state agency predicts how much money will be received from fees and taxes. This prediction is not how much we should spend; it's how much tax money we have coming in.
Spending it all is not the right answer.
We need to create a "sandbox" that leaves a large reserve for the future and does not use gimmicks (Republican or Democratic varieties) to spend more money than we are taking in.
The third big decision -- agree to use "priorities of government."
The "priorities of government" model is what millions of families do everyday in America around the kitchen table - set a budget.
The "priorities of government" process is open and transparent. We all make difficult financial choices, and the "priorities of government" process forces your legislators to make the tough decisions they are elected to handle.
The "priorities of government" process will also result in structural changes to how we operate our government. Funding priorities without raising taxes will force the Legislature to focus on the cost and quality of the services provided, rather than the method by which a service is provided.
A true "priorities of government" process will promote private sector job creation while shedding government of unnecessary bureaucracy and regulations.
The fourth big decision -- agree to focus on the budget and jobs, not social issues.
It is time to take a deep breath and step away from the social issues that divide our state.
For the next two years let's focus on a sustainable budget, funding the priorities of government, and making the structural changes needed to promote private sector job growth.
Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, represents the 42nd district, including part of Whatcom County, in the Washington State Legislature.