Smarter Government Report — February 10, 2012

Greetings Spokane,

We are now well into the second half of this year’s regular legislative session.  I wish I had more progress to report, and could say we are nearing the final passage of a balanced, sustainable and priority-based budget. However, the pace of progress here in Olympia is determined by the majority-party Democrats, and unfortunately budget negotiations continue to take place behind closed door and at a snail’s pace.

Even more frustrating to me than the pace is the complete failure to address a serious threat to the long-term economic health of our state – the increasing cost of higher education, and the failure of elected officials to make state funding for higher-ed a higher priority.

As I discuss in more detail below, I offered a plan to address this problem and without raising taxes, but unfortunately due to partisan rancor my bill to prioritize current revenues and protect higher education was never allowed a public hearing.

Despite the majority-party leadership’s failure to lead on this crucial issue, I will continue my work to restore state support for our colleges and universities.

As always, it is an honor and a privilege to serve you in Olympia.

We’ve got work to do,

Senator Michael Baumgartner

6th District


 

Latest Video Update

Watch my address to hundreds of students from our community and technical colleges who had gathered in the Capitol Rotunda recently.

 


Thinking about Smarter Government: Making Higher Education a Priority

You will not find anyone in the Legislature who says he or she doesn’t care about higher education. Unfortunately, there have been very few who are willing to make it a budget priority.

Over the past 10 years this state has spent a lot of money, and even during times of budget growth higher education has been deprioritized; in the budget adopted in 2011 higher education was the absolute biggest loser, and I am afraid higher ed is set to be kicked in the teeth again.

To prevent this I introduced Senate Joint Resolution 8225, a measure that would have amended Article IX of the Washington State Constitution, which makes providing for basic education the state’s “paramount duty,” to make higher education the second-highest duty of the state. My legislation also would have established a dedicated funding source for higher education: 1.75 cents of every retail-sales dollar on which tax is collected. The measure would have provided $890 million for higher education in fiscal year 2013 alone and would have done so by reprioritizing current revenues and not by raising taxes.

I would be satisfied if the Legislature would even dedicate only 1% of sales tax revenues, as that would at least keep higher education at its current funding levels. That’s not ideal, but it’s better than what I fear will happen to higher-ed funding in these budget negotiations.

Higher education needs constitutional protection and it needs a dedicated revenue source. Twenty years ago the state paid 80 percent of the cost of higher education at four-year institutions; today that figure stands at just 36 percent.

This means the state has shifted the costs of higher education to students. Children of the extremely poor and extremely rich will still have higher education as an option, but for the thousands of kids from working-class families in this state, a college education will become a financial fantasy – forever out of reach thanks to the atrophy of broader state support.

My constitutional amendment would have addressed this problem, yet Democrats failed to even give it a hearing by Tuesday, which was the deadline for all bills to pass out of fiscal committees and remain alive for the remainder of the legislative session.

Higher education is often the dividing line between a secure job and years of struggle. I am astonished that Democrats are willing to put politics ahead of the needs of students, parents and the overall economic well-being of our state.

My bill was the only one on the table that would put higher education in its rightful place.  If other legislators have a better solution, let them bring it forward, but frankly, I am sick and tired of politicians just giving lip service to caring about higher education, and then doing absolutely nothing as the state systematically defunds higher-ed and pushes the burden of paying for a college education onto middle-income kids and their struggling families.

It’s a disgraceful act and members of the majority party should be ashamed of their failure to lead on this issue.

The only thing that will change their opinion is for citizens of this state to rise up and demand better. In the past three weeks, I have worked aggressively to get this message out, including:

  • Meetings with students from the University of Washington, Eastern Washington University and Washington State University,
  • Meeting with Elson Floyd, president of WSU
  • Speaking to the Association of Community and Technical Colleges in Rotunda
  • Speaking to University of Washington students on the Capitol steps
  • Meeting with students from Highline Community College south of Seattle
  • Discussions with the chancellor of Seattle Community Colleges
  • Meeting with Trio Student Leadership (Eastern and WSU)
  • Having my staff attend (I had a schedule conflict) a town hall meeting on higher education sponsored by the Seattle Times.

And there are still more events scheduled to come.

At every opportunity I have urged students and administrators to demand better from the Legislature. I urge you to do the same.  If we don’t prioritize higher education in the constitution, the lawmakers here in Olympia never will.

 


Focus on Jobs: Costly Regulations

Senate Bill 6142, which I co-sponsored, would address first-time violations by small employers and technical-assistance visits by regulatory agencies. I’m glad this bill has passed in the Senate, but simply mitigating regulations isn’t really going to do much to get people back to work.

We need to begin removing these costly regulations from the books so our businesses can flourish, our people can get back to work, and our communities can prosper once again!

Watch my brief remarks regarding regulations in our state

 


Back at Home: 6th District Citizens are Invited to Join Me for a Tele-Town Hall

SAVE THE DATE: Thursday, February 23

I strongly believe one of the best ways to build and maintain trust as an elected official is to have frequent, open, and honest discussions with the good people I serve. We already had two in-district town hall meetings at the start of the legislative session; now I invite you and your neighbors to participate in a telephone-town hall later this month.

This live, 1-hour, community event begins Thursday, February 23 at 7 p.m. You may take part from the comfort of your own home by dialing 1-877-229-8493 and entering the code 17921.

I will update you on the state budget crisis and my reform bills, answer your questions about legislation and discuss a wide variety of topics of concern to you and your family. You may listen in on part or all of the conversation, ask questions if you’d like, and take part in instant polls.

Hope to hear from you then!