Leadership means being bold, prioritizing state spending

With just three weeks left in the 2012 legislative session, the majority party has yet to release its budget plan to solve the roughly $1.1 billion spending gap. We’ve known about this problem since last summer and, I would argue, my colleagues and I warned the majority party back in 2007 when its budget writers began their spending spree.

Nonetheless, here we are – two regular sessions and four special sessions in the last two years and the one-party leadership has refused to be bold and prioritize spending. House Republicans have taken the opportunity to go through our budget line by line to ensure every dollar from taxpayers is put toward the priorities of government – education, public safety and services for our most vulnerable – within current tax collections.

We unveiled our Fund Education First proposal in January and followed up with our education-only budget on Feb. 2, which would put $580 million more toward basic education than the governor’s proposal. Included in our education budget is full funding for levy equalization, the 180-day school year and school reform and accountability measures.

On Feb. 17, we took the leadership role of budget writing and showed our priorities through presenting the remainder of our budget. The result of which is strong support for public safety. Our budget funds $40 million more for public safety than the governor’s proposal, including funding for new radios and safety initiatives for prison employees, no early release or less community supervision for criminals and funding for gang violence prevention.

We also protect the truly vulnerable among us, which we believe are those with developmental disabilities, the elderly (long-term care), those with mental illnesses and children. We allocated $89 million more than the governor proposed to these populations and services to assist them.

I know the question will be what did we cut to fund these at higher levels? To start with, we reduced the Department of Ecology by 14 percent and eliminated state funding for the Puget Sound Partnership, which has been ineffective and has spent taxpayer money on everything but cleaning up Puget Sound.

We also found $29 million in administrative efficiencies in information technology, goods and services, personal service contracts, travel, equipment and cell phones. And, we took a look at general government agencies’ budgets and found ways to reduce them by five to 10 percent.

Are these decisions easy? No. But, we must focus tax dollars where they do the most good and on core services of government. Funding for our education system, public safety protections and the safety nets for those most in need are House Republican priorities.

Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, serves as the deputy leader for the House Republicans. His House committee assignments include Agriculture and Natural Resources, Business and Financial Services and Rules.