Baumgartner calls for analysis of disproportionate state spending in election years

Sen. Michael BaumgartnerState Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, today said disproportionate spending in the billion-dollar state capital budget adopted last week has him wondering whether that was influenced by 2012 being an election year.

“The districts represented by Democratic senators whose seats are up for re-election this year got nearly twice as much money for construction projects as districts served by Republican senators whose seats will also be on the ballot,” Baumgartner said. “A taxpayer might reasonably ask whether that’s due to prioritizing – or if there is some partisan electioneering behind those numbers.”

He has called for non-partisan Senate committee staff to investigate whether the disparity in the new capital budget is abnormal, or instead continues a trend concerning capital spending in election years.

“I voted for the capital budget and it contains many worthwhile projects, but we need to make sure that it’s not used for pork-barrel projects in election years,” said Baumgartner. “We need to see if there is a pattern here.”

Baumgartner’s breakdown of the capital budget shows that 12 districts represented by Senate Democrats whose terms are expiring this year received 43 percent of the money allocated for non-statewide projects in the 2012 capital budget. However, these Democrat senators represent just 24 percent of the Senate.

In dollar terms, those 12 districts in which Senate seats now held by Democrats will be on the ballot received $423 million out of $932 million, an amount 76 percent greater than if spending on capital projects was distributed evenly.

Baumgartner contrasted that with projects in districts served by Senate Republicans whose positions are up for re-election, which account for 27 percent of the capital budget. That group makes up 27 percent of the 49-member Senate.

 

Allocation of 2012 Washington State Capital Budget (non-state wide projects)

$ Allocated in Budget % of Total Comparative Equal Share Amount if funds distributed evenly across population Difference
Total for 27 Democrat Districts

610,864

62%

541,274

13% more than equal share
Total for 22 Republican Districts

371,448

38%

441,038

16% less than equal share
Total for 12 Senate D’s up for reelection

423,426

43%

240,566

76% more than equal share
Total 13 Senate R’s up for reelection

262,000

27%

260,613

Received equal share.

 

Baumgartner stressed that his findings should be viewed in context, as the benefits of some capital projects cross legislative-district boundaries. For example, the new capital budget includes $35 million for a new medical school in Spokane’s 3rd Legislative District. That district is represented by Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, but Baumgartner noted that the project will equally benefit the people he serves in the adjacent 6th District.

“Still,” Baumgartner said, “the significant disparity in funding allocation to areas with majority Democrats up for re-election calls for further examination. It would also be useful if the media, think tanks, or academia could conduct a historical analysis to see if this is a pattern being repeated in election years. If so, we may need to implement legislative reform.

“Our state now owes nearly eighteen billion dollars in debt and Washington should only borrow and pay for projects that are the greatest benefit to all of our citizens. The last thing they should be used for is political advantage.”

Baumgartner was one of 44 senators who voted in favor of the capital budget.  One senator voted no.

Debt Chart