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Reps. Smith, Pearson agree state budget issues likely to dominate 2011 Legislature

  - Courtesy Photo
— image credit: Courtesy Photo

MARYSVILLE — The Washington State Legislature’s 2011 regular session began on Jan. 10, and two Republican House members want to let their constituents know about the legislative challenges that lie ahead this year.

State representatives Kirk Pearson of the 39th District and Norma Smith of the 10th District addressed concerns about the economy and the state budget, the latter especially as it pertains to education. They also spoke of the need for bipartisan governance and the importance of fostering dialogues between voters and elected officials.

Pearson and Smith both pointed to the fight to retain levy equalization funds for school districts during the December special session, and agreed that it falls under the state’s Constitutional mandate to provide adequate education for all its children.

Smith noted that, from 2005-2008, the state’s expenditures far exceeded its revenues, and she criticized the state for not appropriately investing the money that it spent. Pearson likewise lamented the roughly $1 billion that was raided from the capital projects fund in the last biennium, noting that Franklin Delano Roosevelt used the Works Progress Administration to fund capital projects during the Great Depression to help create jobs and address communities’ needs.

Smith and Pearson agreed that the state can grow out of the recession through a combination of budget cuts and job creation, without further taxes or fees. Both identified areas where they believe the state has failed to prioritize properly. Smith warned that the state is spending too much money on acquiring new wilderness areas and natural habitats, and not enough on protecting its existing preserves from forest fires. Pearson plans to end a credit program for prison inmates that he estimates has cost the state $4 million, which he considers indefensible when 10 percent of his constituents are out of work.

To help foster job growth, Pearson is sponsoring a bill to encourage the state government to buy from within the state itself, to support state businesses and retain those tax dollars, while Smith deemed aerospace and biosciences, particularly in the health field, to be industries in which the state’s pre-existing strengths should be further fostered. At the same time, Smith sees it as essential that the state become more business-friendly.

“We need to do everything we can to create certainty,” Smith said. “The more talk there is of new taxes and new fees, the more swirling uncertainty there is to dampen the business climate. The governor’s freeze on rule-making was a good step, because we have so many regulations already that businesses can’t stay on top of them.”

While the political process is often perceived as divisively partisan, Pearson echoed Smith’s willingness to cede credit for legislation to her peers if it helps legislation get passed. Smith praised a number of her Democratic colleagues for joining in bipartisan support of levy equalization, and described the biggest differences of opinion as not between Democrats and Republicans, but rather between rural and urban communities.

While meeting with the editorial staff of The Marysville Globe and The Arlington Times last week both legislators acknowledged they are often are short on time and support staff but they encouraged members of the public to contact them by phone or via e-mail, although they said that their response times might not always be prompt due to the volumes of such correspondence that they receive.

Smith repeated her pledge to join neighborhood groups for a cup of tea if she’s invited, while Pearson recalled the number of people who have approached him in person as the economic crunch has worn on.

“These last couple of years, more people have come up to me with their grievances,” Pearson said. “I know they’re suffering. One man was in his 60s and he’d lost his job, and I could see the hopelessness in his eyes. I hate to see people hurting like that. If ever I need motivation, I just remember those people. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done.”

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