Legislators just can’t make tough budget decisions, lobbyist says

By Mike Benbow Business Editor

Gary Chandler, the chief lobbyist for the Association of Washington Business, reported Friday on how business interests fared during this year’s legislative session.

There wasn’t anything too bad or too good for business this year, but as Chandler told members of the Greater Marysville-Tulalip Chamber of Commerce, things are far from over yet. Lawmakers are in special session and still have to approve a budget. And they could basically deal with any other issue while they’re in Olympia.

“They may go back in and make changes in legislation to pick up a vote (on the budget),” said Chandler, a former legislator who owns a UPS store in Moses Lake.

As Chandler noted, what was supposed to be a 60-day session was at day 72 on Friday and that the extra innings had cost taxpayers about $200,000 so far. “They showed up and they’re not doing much,” he said.

The longer legislators wait to cut back on spending, the less money they’ll wind up saving, Chandler said.

Lawmakers sent 305 pieces of legislation to the governor this year, Chandler said. He suggests that fewer new laws would save a lot of money for many segments of the economy.

Chander said that his association wants to work with educators to figure out how much it costs schools to follow state laws, and whether any rules can be dumped to provide more money for students.

“They use up a lot of money instead of giving it to kids,” he said. “We’re dedicated to trying to free up some money there.”

He also said that he would have liked to see the Legislature “scrub the budget” before talking about raising taxes.

Chandler said that the state maintains a printing office with 100 employees, even though it jobs out most printing to private companies. The employees are protected by a union, and Chandler suggested that’s why lawmakers didn’t eliminate the department.

He also said that the state should privatize the 20 to 30 lowest-producing state liquor stores, but again, he suggested that lawmakers were afraid to cut state jobs.

Chandler offered other ideas for budget cuts, including the elimination of 2 percent set aside in the construction budget to provide art for state buildings. “I believe art is good, but why not empower classes in the high schools?” he said. “Is $2 million worth of art better than $2 million worth of education?”

Lawmakers, he added, can’t even seem to eliminate boards and commissions that no longer meet, because “most of them have a constituency.”

That’s a shame, Chandler said.

“Quite frankly, we’re broke right now,” he said.

For a variety of reasons, Chandler’s business group doesn’t expect to see more budget-scrubbing before taxes are raised, he said.

He said he expects the Legislature to increase business and occupation taxes on services to help balance the budget. Then lawmakers will have to return in January 2011 and again have the same budget discussions, he said.

Chandler suggested that people who care about business issues grab an AWB assessment on legislators’ voting records on business issues as soon as it’s distributed.

He also recommends that you also grab one prepared by labor officials and environmental groups, and vote accordingly.

“You can see how the legislators stand before all these groups,” he said.

Mike Benbow: 425-339-3459; benbow@heraldnet.com