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Williams critical of spending in Washington state government

He tried to craft a list encompassing the 10 best and worst states based on budgeting.

But Bob Williams, president of the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, told the audience at last week’s Port Orchard Chamber of Commerce meeting that selecting candidates for the bad list was much easier.

Despite that, he said, Washington still made the cut for the worst along with states such as California and Michigan.

Williams, who created the EFF, an Olympia-based libertarian think tank, said the state’s problems begin with Gov. Christine Gregoire and the Legislature.

“They did not learn Econ 101 in school,” he said. “We have less than 30 percent of state legislatures who have signed the front of the paycheck.”

Williams said state spending has increased by $19.2 billion since Gregoire took office in 2004. He also noted that instead of cutting the budget during the recession, legislatures increased total spending by $1.3 billion for 2009-11.

He called the current spending rate in Washington “unsustainable” and praised New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christine, who vowed to eliminate his state’s “addiction to spending” by making massive budget cuts in several programs, including funding to agriculture and education.

Meanwhile, Williams said, legislators are relying on federal stimulus money and borrowing money to close the deficit. He said that Washington has gone from $8.5 billion in outstanding bonds on June 30, 2003, to $15.4 billion through Jan. 27 of this year. He said that puts the state debt per capita at $2,098, which is twice the national average.

Williams also said state employees’ salaries and benefits are “unsustainable,” explaining that state employees earn an average of $4,302 more than those in the private sector, and that their benefits packages are worth 30 percent of their salaries. Williams noted that state employees received a 25.4 percent increase in their salaries between 2005-09.

One issue, he said, is the state’s resistance to make its employees pay more than 12 percent in health-care premiums. Instead, Williams said the House of Representatives is proposing that the state picks up the added expenses.

West Virginia also has privatized workers compensation, which he said has resulted in significant savings, but he said Washington has refused to do that even though State Auditor Brian Sonntag’s office revealed its financial troubles.

Williams said Washington hardly is alone when it comes to budget problems. When he looked at states that could serve as fiscal models, he found only Indiana, which runs at a surplus.

But Williams said it does not have to be that way. He cited former Gov. Gary Locke, who in November 2002 proposed that the state handle its budget woes through what he called “Priorities of Government.” He said the state should prioritize its spending on specific goals that citizens expect from their Legislature.

Locke felt that could be accomplished through viewing state government as a single enterprise, eliminating programs that do not meet their priorities, and consolidating similar activities in different agencies.

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