Kilmer finds silver lining in cloudy legislative session

While battling severe budget conditions brought about by a steadily increasing deficit, Sen. Derek Kilmer (D-Gig Harbor) has managed to provide support priorities of higher education, transportation and social programs.

“There is no silver bullet when it comes to cutting the state budget,” Kilmer said in a conference call to members of the Port Orchard Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday morning. “We are not unique, as other states are grappling with the budget, and every family is sitting around the table facing the same problems.”

Even as the legislature looks to whittle down the deficit, now estimated at around $9 billion, the state can take comfort in the news of $3 billion in economic stimulus money. “If we didn’t have that to help us it would be really ugly.” Kilmer said. “We are receiving a fair amount of dollars that will help us to dig out of a big hole.”

Even so, the current budget climate is ugly enough. Gov. Chris Gregoire’s budget has imposed cutbacks on drug treatment and other social programs, and funds that have been taken for granted are no longer available.

Kilmer, however, has made progress in priority areas. specifically in acquiring funds for a four-year degree program hosted by Olympic College and the continuation of transportation projects.

“We will finish work on the Burley-Olalla interchange,” he said. “And Sedgwick Road will also be completed. These are important projects that we managed to protect.”

Kilmer also expressed optimism about the Washington State Ferries, stating there will be no significant fare increases and funding for the construction of new boats.

“We have some good news for ferry commuters and communities,” he said. “There will be no elimination of runs, and the increases will be restricted to 2.5 percent. We will be able to build some boats, although I am hoping we can build more 144-car ferries and fewer 64-car ferries.

“I am glad that we are building vessels rather than building terminals,” he said. “Focusing on terminals right now would be like building a fancy new three car garage when there is nothing to put inside.”

Kilmer acknowledges that discussions about government programs are often complicated by acronyms, turning the debate into a variation of alphabet soup. This was evidenced by a recent town hall meeting in Bremerton, where listeners couldn’t keep track of what abbreviations meant without a scorecard.

“It is important for legislators to understand that there are real people behind all these acronyms,” he said. “We cannot forget that we live in really challenging times.”

Kilmer predicts that government will be redefined, along with how people view their civic duties. In the meantime, he advises people to take on volunteer responsibilities

“I don’t think that anyone has been immune to the challenges we face,” he said. “We are going to rely on each other more, and putting in volunteer effort will become more important. This could be giving some of our time to an agency, or contributing a little extra food to the food bank every month.”

The meeting was the second of three planned legislator conference calls. The final call is planned for 7:30 a.m. April 14 and will include Rep. Larry Seaquist (D-Gig Harbor). It will take place at Prudential Real Estate on Bethel Road in Port Orchard, and is open to the public.

Port Orchard Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Coreen Haydock Johnson said the calls have so far provided significant value, although she wishes they had occurred earlier in the legislative session.

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