Smarter Government Report — March 11, 2011

Senator Baumgartner at work on the Senate floor.

Greetings Spokane,

Monday, March 7 was the deadline for Senate bills to be voted on by the full Senate. During the next two weeks, bills that passed the Senate will be heard by committees in the House of Representatives, and our Senate committees will be busy considering House bills. We are now in the second half of the 105-day regular session that will end on April 24.

It’s a good time to think about where the Legislature is in meeting its primary responsibility for this session – addressing the 2011-13 budget shortfall projected at nearly $5 billion. Unfortunately, there is not much yet to report. We’re more than halfway through the session, and we’ve yet to see any substantial action toward solving our state’s budget deficit  with reforms that will put us on the course toward fiscal sanity and responsible, sustainable budgets.

While work on the budget has been slow, there has been action on many other policy bills. As you know, I usually like to highlight bipartisan successes here in the in Legislature.  This Session Update looks about a couple of those – worker’s compensation reform and the creation of a new entity entitled “Innovate Washington” – that both have great promise to help grow good jobs in Spokane.

However, I’m disappointed to tell you that in this update I must also highlight an issue that represents a very partisan failure of the leadership of the majority Democrats here in the Senate – their refusal to enact legislation that would stop lawbreakers from obtaining driver’s licenses in Washington.  This failure means that Washington appears destined to become the only state in America that issues licenses to people who are here illegally.

In our “Thinking about Smarter Government” section this week we’ll take another look at the issue of state tax revenue. And finally, we’ll end with some good news about yet another championship coming home to eastern Washington – Go Bullpups!

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

We’ve got work to do,

Sen. Michael Baumgartner
6th District



Key Happenings: Partisan failure of leadership regarding driver’s license security

One of the last bills brought up prior to Monday’s deadline was a measure to address the gaping loophole in how the state of Washington issues driver’s licenses. According to one Rasmussen poll, a full 77 percent of American adults oppose issuing driver’s licenses to people who are in the United States illegally.  I had helped to secure bipartisan support for a modest measure that would require proof of legal status in the U.S. in order to obtain a driver’s license.  Unfortunately, Senate Democrat leadership refused to consider a vote on a bill requiring applicants to prove their legal standing prior to getting a driver’s license.

This failure of leadership means that our state is on track to be the only state in America that essentially allows anyone – regardless of whether they are in the country legally or not – to be eligible for a driver’s license. This glaring fact has made Washington a “magnet” state for illegal aliens to obtain driver’s licenses. Already, Washington has granted 300,000-plus driver’s licenses beyond the number of drivers in this state.

This is a critical issue for our security, and it is only going to get worse as lawbreakers, drug traffickers and potentially even terrorists know that Washington is the easiest state to get such a valuable piece of ID.

I was very disappointed that the Senate Democrat majority leadership blocked these attempts in an extremely partisan manner. I sincerely hope that they reconsider.  The safety of the citizens of this state is too important to play partisan games.  The people of Washington deserve better.


My Solutions: TWO job growth BILLS PASS THE SENATE with bipartisan support

Not everything is dark and gloomy in our state Capitol. I have some good news to share with you. This past week, there were two very visible examples of how – working together in a bi-partisan way – the Senate can accomplish great things for the people of Washington and, in particular, the people of Spokane.

Innovate Washington

The first of these is a Senate bill to help create leading technology-related jobs in our state through an entity that would be called Innovate Washington.

Innovate Washington would combine the work of the Washington Technology Center of Seattle and our own SIRTI – the Spokane Intercollegiate Research and Technology Institute – in a way that should save costs.

Innovate Washington would optimize the delivery of technology transfer between the state’s research institutions and businesses.  It would operate statewide, but will be especially important for Spokane and all of eastern Washington, as we seek to help grow knowledge- and technology-based jobs that are vital to the growth of our economy.

We need to get Spokane working again and I’m especially proud that the bill to create Innovate Washington came through the Senate committee on economic development, on which I serve as Ranking Member.


Workers’ Comp Reform

The second big bipartisan success is the Senate’s passage of a major reform to Washington’s  state-run workers’ compensation (industrial insurance) system.  After decades of inaction, by a vote of 34 to 15 this past Saturday the Senate passed legislation that would for the first time give workers the option to voluntarily settle their workers’ comp claims. This is an extremely important piece of legislation that would bring down the costs of our pricey, job-killing workers’ compensation system.

The number of workers receiving lifetime payments due to injury claims has more than doubled in the past 16 years to one out of every 20 workers, making Washington’s industrial-insurance system one of the most expensive in the country.

Forty-four other states already give workers a voluntary-settlement option. Those states with this option for their workers have seen their workers’ comp rates either decrease or remain steady.

At the same time, we’ve seen Washington’s rates go up by more than $300 million in the past two years alone. Something has to change, and this bill is a move in the right direction.

Giving workers a choice to settle their injury claims won’t just help bring down costs for business and grow jobs, it’s smarter government.

The bill now goes to the House for its consideration. Hopefully we will see the same urgency and bipartisanship in that chamber.


Thinking about smarter government: Washington’s record tax revenue

As the Legislature begins to focus more intensely on the state’s budget shortfall of nearly $5 billion, some folks in Olympia are once again starting to talk about increasing taxes on the citizens of Washington.

These attempts to raise taxes come despite the fact that the state is actually projected to collect a record level of revenue in the next budget cycle and the fact that the voters of Washington, just a few months ago, overwhelmingly rejected increasing taxes as a way to fix the budget.

Clearly the people of Washington don’t think that they are getting good value for their tax dollars and that they want the Legislature to address government’s spending addiction, which has resulted in one unsustainable budget after another.

The efforts of some in Olympia to begin laying the groundwork for tax increases got me interested in how Washington’s tax and fee burden compares to other states. I did some research, and here is what I found.

The people of Washington rank 16th and on average pay more in taxes and fees per person than the citizens of 34 other states.

Interestingly, Washingtonians pay substantially more in taxes and fees than both of our neighbors in Idaho and Oregon and also more than comparable states like Arizona, and Wisconsin.

Another fact that I also found interesting is that many of the states where citizens pay more in taxes and fees than Washington – including California – have bigger budget problems than we do. It’s clear to me that high taxes and fees don’t solve a state’s budget problems. Only responsible state spending that creates a competitive business environment can do that.


Back at home: Congratulations, Bullpups!

After a long week on the floor of the Senate chamber, voting on bills late into the night, I had a very welcome break last weekend. It was nice to hop in the car, leave Olympia on Saturday, and travel up to Tacoma to watch Spokane’s own Gonzaga Prep Bullpups play in the finals of the Class 4A boys’ basketball state tournament, held at the Tacoma Dome.

In fact, the last time I watched the state basketball tournament was almost 20 years ago when my older brother Craig played on a Gonzaga Prep team that took 5th place at state. This time our Bullpups took home the title, and there was a great sense of pride as I watched G-Prep topple Curtis by a final score of 61-41.

This is the Bullups’ first state basketball title. As a boy, Terry Kelly was a basketball hero of mine when he played for the WSU Cougars, and it was fun to watch his outstanding son Parker help lead Prep to the title.  I will be more than proud to honor this year’s state champions with a resolution in the Senate.

Well done, Bullpups. Congratulations on a phenomenal season.  You make all of Spokane proud!