The opening days of a legislative session regularly feature ceremony and tradition, but last week something truly historic took place in the state Senate. For the first time, a bipartisan coalition has emerged to govern the Senate. The result is new energy in Olympia, in more ways than one.
Because of the new bipartisan majority coalition caucus in the Senate, there's a level of excitement in the Legislature unlike any in my tenure. I welcome the collaborative approach to governing the coalition has brought and I'm proud to count myself as a member. The people of our state deserve a government that works together; that's what we'll be delivering in the state Senate.
The coalition's emergence has major implications for the budget, which is the biggest issue facing our state. Fortunately, we have aligned around a set of guiding principles that incorporates the four steps to a better budget I outlined in The Bellingham Herald last month:
Balancing the budget without raising taxes;
Deciding upfront how much money will be spent;
Implementing a priorities-of-government model of budgeting;
Focusing on the budget and jobs, not social issues.
With more tax money expected coming into the state than ever, there's no reason we can't fully fund our priorities and balance the budget. That's particularly true if we heed the words of our new governor, who said in his inaugural address that we should measure success by results, rather than the money we put into programs. That mirrors what I've been saying for months -we must focus on the cost and quality of the services government provides, rather than the method by which they're provided.
When I say there's new energy in Olympia, I'm also referring to the emphasis I'll put on emerging ideas in the field of energy as chairman of the Senate Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee. As we move through the 2013 session, my focus for the committee will remain squarely on creating positive solutions in these three areas:
1. Reducing energy costs;
2. Creating energy-sector jobs;
3. Encouraging new energy technologies.
Energy policy is essential to many aspects of our lives. It's directly linked to our environment and quality of life. As we work towards the goals outlined above, we'll put an emphasis on examining how energy pathways will impact the health of our environment. We'll also put a priority a reliable energy grid that allows families and businesses to thrive.
Job creation and energy policy go hand-in-hand. We know this well here in Whatcom County, where many family-wage jobs come in the field of energy development. Washington's low energy costs help attract new businesses to our state and retain those that are here. This is an area where we cannot move backwards.
Too often government tries to get into the business of trying to pick winners and losers. For instance, current state law requires utilities to ship our clean, low-cost energy to other states only to buy energy from those states at rates that can run four times as high. Of course, the utility doesn't absorb the difference - it gets passed to customers in the form of higher utility rates. That doesn't make sense to me, and we'll instead be pursuing policies that encourage innovation and growth in all sectors of the energy field.
The final, and most important, goal of both our bipartisan coalition and the Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee is to work in a collaborative fashion that incorporates all viewpoints. Neither party has a monopoly on good ideas, nor does Olympia - many of our state's best solutions come from outside government. If you have an idea for a law that should be changed or an idea we should examine in the committee, I want to hear it.
The people of Whatcom County and Washington state deserve an energy plan based on the fundamental goals of reducing costs and increasing jobs. You also deserve a government that works together to tackle tough issues like our state budget.
We have a unique opportunity this year to channel the new energy of the Senate and an incoming governor committed to bold action. If we work together, we can create a dynamic vision for the future and move our state forward in a positive direction.
Sen. Doug Ericksen, R.-Ferndale, is the chair of the Senate Energy, Environment and Telecommunications Committee and has represented Whatcom County since 1999.