Senator Andy Billig and Representatives Timm Ormsby and Marcus Riccelli held the first of two town hall meetings today at Shadle High School. A Washington State Patrol trooper quietly hovered in the back as the number of attendees quietly grew to about 60 once the meeting got underway. Gray hair was in abundance and one young lady accompanying her father stood in for the youth within the district.Each host spent a couple minutes introducing themselves and took turns presenting Powerpoint slides containing vast amounts of information that could not be digested by anyone in the short amount of time spent on each one. To his credit, Mr Riccelli helpfully explained several times, "This slide is kind of busy," for those who may not have noticed.
The important points, however, were properly highlighted. Half of the state's revenue derives from sales tax and when the economy suffers so does the state's income. Two-thirds of the state's spending is protected by legal or contractual requirements. The unprotected third includes categories such as correctional, human services, and some education which tend to suffer as easier targets of spending cutbacks. Washington State ranks in the bottom third for education funding but in the top third in education performance. Expanding Medicaid will provide health coverage for 385,000 people (that's almost three whole legislative districts) and save the state $250 million and both parties support it. The state does not have a spending problem. In 1995, 7% of state taxpayer's income went towards state taxes. In 2012 it's 4.5%. The McCleary decision adds $1.4 billion to each of the next three biennium budgets.
Each legislator kept their presentations brief to allow for a one-hour Q&A. Senator Billig asked that each person keep their statements short and ask a question so that more people would be able to participate. The first question came from a teacher who didn't get the hint. As she went on with a story that left us all wondering where she was going with it, Senator Billig finally had to interrupt and ask her to ask her question. A couple more questioner's also tried to monopolize the microphone so they changed it up and had the legislative assistant hold it. Fortunately, a situation did not arise where he would have to yank it away. After an hour the legislators agreed to hang around a bit for anyone else who wished to speak with them.
Next Wednesday, the legislature receives the official word on expected revenue on which to base the budget. There are concerns that the federal sequester will result in a decrease in the state's expected revenue. For the most part our legislators seem to be working together to address the major issues affecting our state. Leaving aside the distraction of the Freedom Agenda I think they provide a lot to be hopeful for.