In a Thursday afternoon call with the media, Sen. Jim Honeyford and Representatives David Taylor and Bruce Chandler spoke on the issues of the current legislative session.
The call started with discussion on levy equalization funds for the poorer school districts in the state. When asked if it was still on the table, Taylor responded.
"It seems like every year it's 'on the table' to some extent," said Taylor. "The governor's proposal would be to eliminate it and then have it essentially bought back through a half-billion dollar sales tax increase."
Taylor indicated that other funding options are being considered.
"My position is we maintain levy equalization, and before we take any other action on the budget we fund education first and then see what we've got left to work with," he said.
Honeyford agreed with Taylor on the subject.
"I think it's unconscionable to hold education hostage for a tax increase," Honeyford said. "Education, by the constitution, should be the priority and should be funded. The other programs that are luxuries, that should be the one that we put on the ballot to be bought back, if we're going to buy it back."
All three legislators expressed dismay at the proliferation of non-budget items in the current session. When asked about the current effort to legalize same sex marriage, the consensus was that more pressing issues should be dealt with first.
"The best way to describe the proposal is a distraction from the real work we have to do," said Taylor. "We're still facing about a $1.5 billion budget deficit. We were brought back to special session to try to close that a little bit, that occurred but not to the extent that I would hope."
Taylor mentioned two bills he had seen that morning related to elections law. "It's a distraction, that's all it is."
Chandler broke in at that point. "Nobody is challenging the seriousness of the issue, but this session the legislature's primary task is getting the budget fixed," he said.
"People are concerned that social issues of that nature are going to make that very difficult."
Honeyford was a little more forthright. "A lot of these social things should be placed on the back burner until we solve the budget situation that we're facing," he said. "We're attempting very little and accomplishing even less."
The budget was the next topic.
"The longer we delay, the more severe the budget changes will have to be," said Chandler. "You have less time to make up the deficit. That was one of our frustrations about the special session in December."
The state spends approximately $40 million a day," said Taylor, going on to explain that each day is dollars lost in budget reduction.
The next question concerned critical access hospitals, and Honeyford was grave as he answered.
"I think that's going to be an awfully big fight, because it's so important for the rural communities to have those hospitals," said Honeyford. "And if those funds are cut, I think we'll see many of them close. Those of us who are rural legislators will be fighting to keep them."
All three legislators responded to a comment on the redistricting of the 15th District. Honeyford said he was disappointed to lose Klickitat and Skamania counties.
The legislators also expressed their priorities for the current session.
"The most urgent thing, in addition to balancing state spending, is to get the economy moving," said Chandler. "There's quite a few different ideas, some of them are better than others."
Taylor mentioned House Bill 2276, which would streamline regulations and permitting processes. He admitted it doesn't stand a chance of passing. He said Republicans have been working hard to find solutions to Washington's problems.
"Looking at the core function of government for Washington state, we've identified those to be: funding education first, protecting public safety, protecting the most vulnerable in our society and providing the framework for economic development and jobs growth," he said.
Honeyford brought up a current effort to pass another bond.
"Our statutory debt limit is 9 percent, and the working debt limit should be 8.75 percent, we're at 8.76 right now," said Honeyford. "There is no room for additional bonds unless you make them outside of the debt limit."
Honeyford said the government needs to go in another direction. He said the efforts over the last few years have not yielded results.
"I just don't believe we can buy our way out of the recession," he said.
Honeyford also expressed some concern about the condition of roads in the state.
"Something needs to be done for transportation, particularly for maintenance," he said. "Because if you defer the maintenance too long you have to start over again and build completely new roads. So we've gotta have some kind of a solution."
He criticized Gov. Chris Gregoire's transportation package as being mostly unfunded. He categorized it as a statement of need, rather than a serious effort to solve the problem.