Whidbey legislators face a ‘horrible challenge’

State Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen shows a chart outlining the money that can be legally cut to resolve a $1 billion budget shortfall.  - Nathan Whalen/Whidbey News-Times
State Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen shows a chart outlining the money that can be legally cut to resolve a $1 billion budget shortfall.
— image credit: Nathan Whalen/Whidbey News-Times

Whidbey Island’s three state legislators are gearing up for a new session starting this week that likely includes more program cuts.

State Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, along with State Rep. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, and State Rep. Norma Smith, R-Clinton, visited with community members Saturday during a legislative brunch at the Whidbey Golf and Country Club  sponsored by the Whidbey Island League of Women Voters and American Association of University Women. More than 100 people attended the Saturday morning event to hear the elected officials give their impressions of the upcoming session.

“We have a horrible challenge before us in Olympia,” Haugen said. “This coming session is going to be one of the most challenging ones I’ve ever seen.”

Haugen, Bailey and Smith returned to Olympia Monday to begin a 60-day session where legislators have to resolve a $1 billion shortfall.

Haugen said an all-cuts budget has to be passed before a revenue package could be presented to voters for their approval, warning that new taxes could be rejected at the polls.

Bailey worried that the state will have problems meeting its pension obligations and that state spending has outpaced any growth in the economy. She handed out a sheet to the crowd outlining how spending has been higher than revenues.

Island County Commissioner Angie Homola, a Democrat, took exception to Bailey’s information and questioned the Oak Harbor representative on how the legislature would replace revenue lost through voter approved initiatives that capped tax increases and excise taxes.

Bailey appeared to have been caught off guard by the question, saying figures can be manipulated. She added that taxes can still be increased by a vote of the people.

Norma Smith talked about the importance of manufacturing and production jobs to the state.

“Manufacturing and production offers the best hope for 70 percent of the Washingtonians who don’t have college degrees,” Smith said, urging the legislature to focus “like a laser beam” to enhance the manufacturing economy while protecting clean water and clean air.

Despite the upcoming budget battle, Haugen was pleased with one new development that will help islanders.

Haugen was enthused that the Kennewick, Washington State Ferries’ latest 64-car vessel, is complete and will add redundancy to the Port Townsend to Coupeville ferry route. She added construction will start on a new 144-car ferry and she aims to secure money to fund construction of a second ferry. Nichols Brothers Boat Builders in Freeland is a subcontractor for ferries.

Haugen was also delighted with the state Supreme Court ruling Friday saying the legislature hasn’t met its obligation to fund education; however, she noted that the ruling excluded higher education. In addition, it might take years for the legislator to satisfy the court on the long-standing issue.


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