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This op-ed originally appeared in The Wenatchee World and The Spokesman-Review on April 13, 2005.
I get a troubling sense of deja vu as I watch the antics in Olympia this year. It seems as if 1993 is happening all over again as the Democrat-controlled Legislature and the governor try to find innovative ways to take more money from their constituents' pockets and outbid themselves in a spending fest.
The ink is barely dry on the 2004 election returns and even the control of the governorship is still being contested in the courts, but the promises of the 2004 campaigns are being buried in the quest to spend ever more of our hard-earned dollars.
The state of Washington's economy was the number one issue in the 2004 campaigns. Campaign speeches and brochures were filled with antidotes and promises about government accountability and creating new jobs. Many candidates campaigned hard on the need to rein in government spending and claimed to understand that higher taxes cost our state jobs and growth.
Today, however, now shrouded in the clouds over Olympia, our elected officials are bickering over whether to raise our taxes $200 million or $500 million, and any talk of efficiencies is lost in the myriad of new regulations and mandates flowing to the governor's desk for signature. All of the state biennial budget proposals currently on the table would grow spending between 10 and 12 percent over the past two-year budget. That's simply too much.
Is it any wonder the public has lost confidence in our state government? As the chairman of the League of Freedom Voters' "No on I-884 campaign," I had the opportunity to talk with thousands of citizens across the state and hear their opinions on taxes, government accountability and state spending. Those same citizens voted a resounding NO on new taxes with a 60-40 percent margin. Those citizens also voted for candidates to represent their interests, not to spend months figuring what new taxes will get the least resistance and just how far they can go over the state spending limit without repercussions.
The basic economic facts still remain. Increased taxes have a devastating effect on the economy and struggling families. The voters understand that improving our economy is still the number one issue facing our state and they soundly rejected raising taxes. We need to encourage the creation of new jobs and get all of our citizens back to work.
As the economy improves, state revenues will grow. Instead of talking about ideas for new revenue sources, we should ask government to live within its means and take the option of increased taxes off the table. That was the message voters sent on I-884 and that's the message the Legislature needs to hear today.
Government spending must be accountable. The Legislature must cut administrative costs, conduct performance audits and set priorities. Strong standards and targeting funding must be applied to all government programs. Government spending should not increase at the expense of our fragile economy and struggling citizens. We need courageous leadership from our elected officials to enact efficiencies and set priorities; simply spending more will not solve the problems.
When I was the House minority leader in 1993, it was painful to live through the madness of out-of-control tax and spending in Olympia. But the voters spoke loud and clear in 1994, giving both the state Senate and House strong Republican majorities and electing me as speaker. We were able to roll back most of the damage and get our economy moving.
I am deeply concerned that we are heading right back where we started. Since I am retired, I can afford the time to reminisce. Our elected officials need to stop dreaming and be accountable to the citizens who elected them.
Clyde Ballard, East Wenatchee, is the former speaker of the Washington House of Representatives. He served as a state representative from District 12 from 1982 to 2002.