Rep. Skyler Rude: Restoring trust in government through transparency and fiscal responsibility
The last year has put a strain on most people's trust in government, and its ability to balance the severity of the pandemic while keeping our economy open and strong. Remaining in various phases of shutdown has caused families to struggle, our economy to suffer, and businesses and jobs to disappear.
The mismanagement of the Employment Security Department, which handles unemployment insurance claims, only added to the public's growing mistrust. Much-needed benefits were delayed, or not received at all by unemployed Washingtonians, while the agency allowed hundreds of millions of dollars to be sent overseas in fraudulent claims.
Small businesses continue to wonder about their future as doors stay closed and crippling unemployment insurance tax increases threaten economic viability.
While our constant calls for a special session went unanswered for months, the ranking Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Drew Stokesbary, was writing a House Republican operating budget proposal for when the Legislature convened.
The framework of that proposal was recently unveiled and includes legislative-driven savings policies identified as part of a zero-based budget review. Zero-based budgeting is something we have been pushing for, for some time. It involves a ground-up approach to building a budget, evaluating each program to be added to the budget, rather than assuming current spending as the base and adding on from there.
Although it is uncommon for the minority party to write a budget, we felt it was important to contrast the proposals from the governor this year, given the unique circumstances around COVID. Our proposal offers real solutions for working families, students, our most vulnerable, our economy and businesses, and every other Washingtonian. Unlike the governor's proposal, ours does not require raising taxes on anyone or anything, and it does not cut vital services.
Immediate pandemic relief is still on the forefront. Our proposal would appropriate $1.8 billion from the rainy-day fund to pay for one-time COVID-related expenses. It would provide additional funds for foundational public health without taxing health insurance plans as the governor has proposed.
For our small businesses that continue to struggle, this proposal would replenish the unemployment insurance (UI) fund to replace fraud losses and mitigate skyrocketing UI taxes. It would also provide temporary business and occupation (B&O) tax relief for restaurants and other hard-hit businesses.
For our working families, this proposal would fully fund the Working Families Tax Credit for the first time in its 12-year history. It would also provide $300 stipends for low-income families to defray the additional educational costs incurred due to home-based learning expenses.
By preparing an operating budget this early in the budget-writing process, we are giving the public, stakeholders, and lawmakers the opportunity to review and vet the proposal. This offers increased opportunity for public conversation.
This budget represents savings, efficiencies, and rational decision-making. It includes reducing unnecessary bureaucracy, fixing inefficient structures, eliminating programs that aren't working, replacing bad policies with better ones, and breaking a cycle of unsustainable spending increases, which have averaged 16 percent over the last three biennia.
It is an honor to serve you.
As featured in the Dayton Chronicle and Prosser Record-Bulletin