Legislators should take care when spending your money
It's often said that bad policy is the driver to bad fiscal decisions. I'm here to tell you that good policy can just as often be the backseat driver.
This past week was fiscal committee cutoff in the state House of Representatives. Legislation that spends money and was approved by the appropriate policy committees must now get approval from the House Appropriations Committee.
As a member of this committee, we're tasked not with looking at whether or not a policy is good; our job is to decide whether or not the taxpayers of our state should foot the bill.
This is a budget year in Olympia. We will write the state's two-year operating budget where money will be spent on everything from mental health to colleges and universities; from welfare to state parks; from keeping criminals locked up to bussing students to school.
We'll fund the Washington State Arts Commission, the Board of Volunteer Firefighters and the Citizens Commission on Salaries for Elected Officials.
We'll spend billions educating our students, taking care of our infirm, and protecting our environment.
Last time we did this, in 2015, our two-year General Fund budget was nearly $40 billion. In the 1991-93 biennium, that number was just over $15 billion.
Why do I bring up this comparison?
This is the time of year where the “good idea fairy” runs rampant.
There are literally hundreds of “good ideas” that make their way into legislation. And while oftentimes these good ideas only spend a few million dollars here and there, in totality, they add up. Fast.
This is how you go from spending $15 billion to $40 billion in just over 20 years.
In Olympia, each and every good idea has a lobbyist, an organization, an advocacy group or a special interest pushing the positive merits of their idea. And we hear from them. Over and over again.
Late into the night we hear how we can be good legislators – good people – if we'd just allocate money for their good idea. We need to be fair; we need to do the right thing; we need to spend money on their program – it's only $20 million.
You know who I don't hear from during a 10:30 Thursday night committee hearing? Johnny Q. Taxpayer. The man, women or family that has to foot the bill for every good idea festering around in Olympia.
It is my firm belief that we as elected officials, have to resist the urge to make state government be all things to all people. We've been down that road before and it leads to out-of-control spending, multi-billion dollar deficits and a slew of broken promises.
When I'm voting on legislation in Olympia I ask myself, “Is this a proper function of state government? Can the private sector do it cheaper and with better results? Are the taxpayers in my district willing to pay more for this program or service?”
Which is why you'll see me cast a lot of “no” votes in committee and on the House floor. It's not that I'm coldhearted, mean-spirited or cantankerous. It's just that I see the faces of Johnny Q. Public every time I visit the grocery store in Yakima or get gas in Moxee. Folks are just trying to make a living and don't have time to make it over to Olympia on a Thursday night to tell me they're struggling to make ends meet.
My mantra of less government, lower taxes and more freedom is something I live every day in Olympia as I make decisions on your behalf. You may not like every decision your elected official makes in the state Legislature, but you'll always know who I work for and where I stand.
(Rep. David Taylor, R-Moxee, serves on the House Appropriations Committee and is the ranking Republican on the House Environment Committee.)