Citizens packed into Kirkland City Hall to ask questions of their 45th District lawmakers -- Sen. Eric Oemig and Reps. Larry Springer and Roger Goodman.
Oemig welcomed questions from any and all, saying, "If you're thinking it, odds are your friends and neighbors are thinking it, too -- and your husband or wife is thinking the opposite."
Most of the questions from citizens centered around the budget, the need for more education funding and possible tax increases to close a $2.8 billion budget gap.
"There really is only one issue: it's all budget, all the time," Springer said of the 2010 session.
Jerry from Woodinville said he's the owner of a small business, and that his family has slashed spending and his business has cut back. He asked what the state was doing on spending cuts.
"I own a small business, so I know what this feels like," Springer said. "We've had to fill a gap of $12 billion. Our own House and Senate staff have taken 68 percent of all the cuts and furloughs for state workers so far."
Goodman said that his family of four is under the federal poverty level, but he's going to cut his own salary by 5 percent. Goodman drives a 27-year-old car and lives in an 800-square foot house with his wife and two young children.
"I've cut back," Goodman said. "I hear the fear and the worry. What if I lose my job, health care for my family or lose the house?"
After a woman talked about being taxed out of her home, Goodman pointed to the need for reform -- of the tax system, of the criminal justice system and health care.
"The tax system is unfair, absolutely -- it's unfair and unbalanced," Goodman said. "We need to restructure our tax system so people aren't forced out of their homes, so poor people aren't kept in poverty and small businesses aren't hammered. I want to end the Business and Occupation tax."
Goodman said $400 million is wasted each year in the criminal justice system, arresting and locking up drug addicts and the mentally ill, and that the health care system is wasteful and needs to be fixed.
He also said that the U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down campaign finance reform opened the door for wealthy special interests buying their way into power.
"We can't legislate in a workable way if moneyed interests run the show," Goodman said, adding that he'd seen a photo-shopped picture of the nine Supreme Court justices with their black robes covered in corporate logos, like NASCAR racers.
Oemig said that the state made deep cuts last in last year's budget, and must make further cuts this year because of the global recession.
When a man asked why the state always runs a budget deficit, Springer pointed out that the state never runs a deficit. It always has a balanced budget -- it's in the constitution.
"We can't print money like the feds," Springer said. "Every year, we have a balanced budget, and if the economy goes south, we come back to session and cut more."
Springer and Goodman both pointed out that the bad economy didn't only force lawmakers to suspend I-960 on raising taxes, but lawmakers have had to suspend many other initiatives passed when the economy was good, especially two initiatives passed by almost 70 percent of the voters to increase spending on public schools to reduce class sizes and improve teacher pay.
"We're actually taking in fewer dollars this year than before," Springer said.
Oemig added that he had staff run the numbers to see if it was really true that the size of government just keeps going up. The numbers are misleading because of inflation and the millions of people who've come to Washington state.
"If you adjust the numbers for inflation and the number of people in this state, we spend less per person than we did 15 years ago," Oemig said.
Sen. Eric Oemig -- 360-786-7672 / email@example.com
Rep. Larry Springer -- 360-786-7822 / firstname.lastname@example.org
Rep. Roger Goodman 360-786-7878 / email@example.com