As summer turned to fall, I participated in a number of wonderful community events including:
· Harbor Days -- Enjoying the excitement of being on an historic tug as it raced in the annual Harbor Days historic tugboat race.
· Percival Landing---Participating in the Ceremony dedicating and celebrating its historic reconstruction and upgrade.
· Capital Campus Architecture Centennial---Participating in the Capital Campus ceremony commemorating the Centennial of the nationally acclaimed Wilder and White architectural plan for our beautiful Capital Campus.
· Capital Gateway Park---Participating in the dedication and celebration of the new Capital Gateway Park, just off I-5 by the new Roundabout at the intersection of 14th Avenue SE and Jefferson Avenue SE, which features improved bike trail and pedestrian connections and plug-ins for electric cars.
· New Hands On Children’s Museum---Touring the construction-in-progress of the fabulous new Hands On Children’s Museum, with Senator Derek Kilmer, the Senate’s Capital Budget Chair.
· Wild mushrooms of Autumn---I’m enjoying finding the seasonal abundance of wild mushrooms and garnishing our meals with those few I know are “safe.”
And so much more! We live in a great community !
Governor calls Special Session----starting November 28
This is the big news. We're quite busy getting ready for it.
The Governor called the Special Session because our economy continues to be in the doldrums and revenues to support state services, such as education, health care, social services, and environment continue to decline.
The economic and revenue picture continues to be sad. Too many families and communities across Washington are still struggling through the Great Recession. They are buying less, building less, and doing less business than hoped for. Because of this, the state expects to take in less revenue. We once again face the prospect of further cutting back or eliminating services that support our struggling families.
Governor Gregoire recently outlined more than $1.5 billion in potential state cuts to health care, social services, prisons and education as a way to re-balance the state budget. This is really tough, because the only public services still available to cut are those we most value and which we worked hard to protect as we cut about $10 billion out of the budget during the last three years.
We have a duty, however, to maintain a balanced state budget. The problems of achieving these necessary budget cuts will be felt particularly by K-12 and higher education students, parents, seniors, low income people needing help with medical costs, people struggling with household budgets, and everyday citizens.
As part of cutting $10 billion from state spending, we cut the state work force by about 8%, and many remaining state employees are required to take unpaid furloughs. Yet, it's possible that the worst is far from over.
Here's a LINK to the Governor’s list of potential budget cuts and a transcript of her prepared speech.
Some history leading up to this Special Session
Since 2008, we’ve been managing the worst financial crisis of our time---the worst since the Great Depression! During the past three legislative sessions, we had to make many decisions to reduce services that we never wanted to make, due to these major revenue declines.
These decisions began, of course, with steps to improve government efficiency wherever possible, while seeking to protect the integrity of essential public services. Some of these decisions were to:
· Consolidate health care purchasing for state employees, low-income children and the elderly into a single agency to help contain costs.
· Consolidate functions of five agencies into one, including printing and personnel.
· Keep state parks and recreational areas open by creating the user-fee Discover Pass to replace general tax dollars.
· Close three prisons and move prisoners to newer, more efficient, most cost-effective prisons.
In addition to these, we were forced to make many cuts which often did not improve efficiency or effectiveness of public services. We're simply doing less, which, in general does not help improve the economy or improve people’s quality of life. These cuts included:
· Reducing the state employee workforce by thousands – 4,700 full time positions are gone in general government, and another 5,200 in our higher education institutions.
· Reducing state employee pay – by 3 percent. We also increased employee’s share of their health insurance by 25 percent, to its highest level ever.
· Reducing some retirees’ cost-of-living increases. (I voted no.)
· Reducing state services by $10 billion total, which affects almost every service.
· Increasing K-12 school class sizes, thus requiring each teacher to take on more kids, while at the same time, cutting pay for our teachers and other school employees.
· Reducing financial support for college students, and increasing tuition. Tuition increased at a rate four times faster than personal income, and six times faster than inflation.
· Eliminating health insurance for 60,000 low-income working Washingtonians, and eliminating dental coverage for another 275,000. The latter is like asking every person in Thurston County to stop getting dental checkups.
· Removed 12,000 offenders from supervision, and eliminated 1,200 staff positions in the Department of Corrections.
· Reduced Department of Fish and Wildlife General Fund support by 37 percent.
· And so much more.
Our declining revenues continue to be greatly affected by national and global economic forces.
Last Spring we passed a balanced budget, based on the then most recent revenue forecast, that spent less than we expected to take in and set aside more than $700 million in reserves.
Unfortunately, as a result of the continuing ill health of the economy, the September revenue forecast estimated that during the balance of the current biennium (now until June 30, 2013), revenues are expected to be $1.4 billion less than was projected last Spring. The next revenue forecast is scheduled for November 17, and no one is predicting that it will be any more promising.
This challenge is immense - We have already cut so much and more is to come. Because a large percentage of the budget is “protected” from cuts (such as constitutional protections for “basic education,” federal programs for the vulnerable, and payment of debt service), cuts to other areas of the budget must be proportionately larger. The options are exceptionally difficult. Even if we made 10% across-the-board reductions, it would not be enough to close the shortfall and restore reserves. Clearly, dramatic steps will be needed.
Some potential cuts offered by state agencies
· The Department of Corrections has proposed eliminating all state community supervision for 7,400 offenders, AND releasing low/moderate risk offenders 120 days early, except sex offenders.
· The Heath Care Authority has proposed suspending adult pharmacy services, which would cut off half a million people – mostly seniors and disabled people – from their medications.
· The Health Care Authority has also proposed completely terminating coverage for the roughly 35,000 people still enrolled in the Basic Health Plan.
· The Department of Social and Health Services has proposed eliminating all substance abuse programs for adults. Often, these are parents ordered to seek treatment by the courts in domestic violence or child welfare cases.
· The Department of Social and Health Services has offered many other potential cuts, ranging from child welfare to mental health treatment.
· The Department of Agriculture has proposed a $1 million reduction in support to food banks statewide, which would eliminate 3.1 million meals for hungry families and individuals.
· And there are many more.
Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition honors Senator Fraser
I was honored recently by the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition for many years of supporting funding and legislative improvements for this critical program which provides funding for many outdoor recreation and habitat purposes.
Here's a link to the award ceremony:
Click HERE to view the Washington Wildlife & Recreation Coalition Award Ceremony recognizing Senator Fraser and her efforts:
Capital Campus vista declared one of the "Seven Wonders of Thurston County"
I was certainly pleased to learn that the spectacular, historic north-south vista between the Capital Campus and Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains was recently declared Number One of the "Seven Wonders of Thurston County" by the Board of Thurston County Commissioners. This was the result of a public process they initiated which took place during the past year.
This spectacular vista, one of the icons of our area, was formally incorporated into the landscape design for the Capital Campus by the reknown landscape architects, the Olmstead Brothers, who developed the landscape plan for the Campus in the early 1900's. The Olmstead Brothers also designed the Seattle Park system, Central Park in New York City, and many other major park and landscape achievements.
Untimely death of Senator Scott White --- Olympia area native and Timberline H.S. grad
We in the Senate are in mourning in recent days over the sudden death of Senator Scott White, who was only 41 years old. He died quite unexpectedly of natural causes while attending a conference in Roslyn.
His death is a heartbreaking blow to his family, friends and the extended family of Washingtonians he touched in his legislative district, here in the Olympia area where he grew up, and throughout his life.
For me, Senator White was an exceptionally valued colleague. He was always committed to the highest ideals of public service, was a most able and trustworthy legislator, and was a great pleasure to work with. Elected by his colleagues to the position of Democratic Caucus Whip, he was one of the four top leaders of the Senate Democratic Caucus. He was also a very active Vice Chair of the Senate Transportation Committee. Senator White grew up in the Olympia area, and graduated from Timberline High School. I was very appreciative that he always maintained an active interest in the quality of life in our community. He was a ready supporter of protecting the historic scenic vistas to and from the Capital Campus.
He will long be remembered as a committed leader and a model legislator. His passing is a loss to us all.
A very well attended public memorial service for Senator White was held on Sunday, November 6, at the University of Washington. TVW filmed it and you can view it by going to their web site.