Hello and greetings from your state Capitol. I’m State Representative Ann Rivers from the 18th Legislative District.
This is my first term as a state lawmaker and I was just sworn in a few days ago. Like you, I was on the outside looking in last year.
Many citizens, myself included, have been concerned about the direction our state is headed. And I saw very little to indicate things were going to get better any time soon.
That’s why I got involved and ran for office, and now I have the honor of serving the people of my district in Southwest Washington.
I come to Olympia with the perspective of a parent, a wife, a daughter, and a business owner. As I look around the Legislature, I see ordinary people who are capable of extraordinary things. And I’m optimistic that we can turn our state around.
People often joke with me that it must be tough being a Republican in Washington state. But I respectfully disagree.
Now I don’t speak for every Republican in the Legislature because we are from different communities and represent a wide variety of people. But as a group, we have one thing in common: concern over the future of our state. And we come together with solutions and principles — determined to get our state back on sound financial footing and get people back to work.
In tough times, especially, I feel conservative principles act as a lighthouse for reform. In fact, editorials from newspapers across our state have been shining a light on Republican solutions and even advocating for them. This is needed because the Democrats’ one-party approach in Olympia has clearly failed.
What’s discouraging is we still have too many families, individuals and employers struggling to get by. In these tough times, folks want to know that state government is working for them — not against them. And I can assure you that Republicans are working for you.
So, what does that mean? Republicans enter the legislative session focused on two issues: strengthening the economy by creating jobs and balancing the state budget without raising taxes. Also important to us are education, health care and transportation.
Let’s start with the number one issue for Republicans: strengthening our economy and getting people back to work.
We question the belief that our state is at the mercy of national trends. While they do affect us, not all states are facing the unemployment rate that Washington state is. In fact, if my legislative district was a state, it would have the second highest unemployment rate in the nation.
While our governor and others like to point to the rankings of Wall Street magazines, ask any employer on Main Street and they will tell you how hard it is out there.
We can do better. And we must do better.
Republicans recognize that agriculture, software and aerospace businesses are leading industries in our state. But we cannot assume these sectors alone represent the health of our business climate. Small businesses did not lead us into this down economy, but they will lead us out. And state government needs to be a part of their solutions — not their problems.
There are things we can and must do now to help our current employers and attract new business investments. For example, we must reform our workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance programs. These programs are costly, inefficient, job-killing obstacles for small businesses.
We must also look at the rules and regulations that employers are forced to endure and eliminate unnecessary ones. Many of these requirements are costly and time consuming.
We must also streamline our permitting process. This red tape is often a barrier for small businesses looking to expand in or locate to our state. Simply put, we must get out of their way so they can grow and create jobs.
We must also improve our transportation infrastructure. This will help with the flow of goods and services, not to mention commute times.
Republicans have proposed bills in the past to address these problems and we will continue to advocate for these solutions and others. If we can place our economy on a solid foundation, we can build a platform for prosperity. Not only will we create more jobs, but we will bring in more revenue for state and local governments.
This brings me to the next priority for Republicans: balancing the state budget without raising taxes.
First and foremost, Republicans do not believe taxes need to be raised. And we do not want to see citizens overloaded with new fees. It’s an easy equation: We want you to keep more of your hard-earned money and use it for your family’s priorities.
Now while the economy has contributed to our budget problem, poor decisions by the governor and majority party have taken the situation from serious to crisis. Between 2005 and 2008, state spending increased by a whopping 33 percent. Our governor even signed a budget that she called, and I quote, “unsustainable.” Unfortunately, she was right.
These short-term approaches have long-term consequences, and we are dealing with the aftermath today. The days of irresponsible budgeting must end and it’s time to close the gates on liberal spending.
The good people of this state spoke in the last election. Their message? The voters expect the state to live within its means.
We must use the budget crisis as an opportunity to address problems head on.
Our principles for the budget are simple. Much like families and small businesses have done, it’s time for state government to prioritize, reset and adjust to economic realities.
Republicans feel the priorities for state government are education, public safety, and the protection of our most vulnerable.
We believe it’s time for state government to implement the family-budget approach. Much like families at the kitchen table, every state expense must be put on the conference table.
For example, every state agency budget must be reviewed. If a program is not a priority, then is it needed? And if it’s needed, can it be done in a more cost-effective way?
Again, these are the same types of decisions being made by families and individuals. And the same should be expected of state government.
Beyond prioritizing, we must also reset state government. This means looking at labor contracts. It means contracting out state services. It means addressing our neglected pension funds. And it means finding ways for large state agencies — such as DSHS — to deliver better outcomes with fewer costs.
No one is saying this will be easy, but nearly everyone is saying that it is necessary.
Unfortunately, the entrenched bureaucracy is doing its best to preserve the status quo — no matter how vital change is to our state’s future. The bottom line is we must end business as usual in Olympia.
Our governor has outlined some new proposals for state government and we appreciate the starting point for dialogue. But her plans seem short on details and long on bureaucracy.
Republicans want bold reforms. Reforms that streamline processes, save tax dollars, ensure accountability and, most importantly, improve our business climate. We’re not interested in just re-naming and re-shuffling state agencies. We want to change the culture of state agencies — not just the letterhead.
Republicans want to work with the governor, but we are also mindful of her past promises.
In her 2005 state of the state address, the governor said businesses faced a “blizzard of paperwork.” And just last year she said wanted “to help businesses break through the red tape.” But talk to any employer today and they will tell you that they are still snowed in and tied up.
As I highlight what our governor has promised, let me remind you of what Republicans have been saying. We’ve been sounding the alarm on state spending. We’ve been fighting against tax increases. And we’ve been putting solutions forward for our economy. But one-party control of Olympia has cast these ideas aside.
These examples are not meant to be partisan, but they are meant to provide contrast. We believe the time for talk is over. As the old saying goes: Actions speak louder than words.
Republicans, with solutions in hand, are willing to work with our governor and Democratic colleagues to strengthen the economy and balance the state budget without raising taxes.
Abraham Lincoln once said: “You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.” This is a concept that all state lawmakers must embrace right now.
We must reinvigorate the core values that made our country the envy of the world. It’s time for long-term, sustainable solutions, and it’s time to turn the page to better days ahead.
Based on the outcome of the bipartisan special session, and what I have witnessed in my short time here in Olympia, my confidence is high for our 2011 legislative session. I’m very hopeful and you should be as well.
We ask you to join us and be a part of the solutions. Please write a letter, send an e-mail, call the toll-free hotline, or testify before a committee. Be the “12th Man” of your citizen Legislature.
I’m State Representative Ann Rivers. Thank you so much for watching.
God bless our nation and the great people of Washington state.