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State Rep. Tina Orwall speaks on challenges of 2011 session: Legislator feature
State Rep. Tina Orwall may be going into her second term in Olympia, but it’s a safe bet this session won’t be anything like her last.
Although legislators had painful cuts to contend with last session, this go ‘round they will be balancing a biennial budget that has a $4.6 billion gap. And that’s in addition to making cuts in the remainder of this year’s budget, which ends June 30 and is $1.1 billion in the hole.
“The first task at hand is going to be fixing our current budget,” said Orwall, who gave an interview Jan. 8 while driving home from Olympia. “That is our first focus – we still have a deficit.”
To tackle either budget issue, Orwall noted it’s going to take in-depth evaluation of state management levels, as well as cooperation on both sides of the aisle.
“I think we’re going to need to look into layers of government,” she said. “We’ve cut quite a bit the last few years, but it may be us going deeper into management.”
Fine-tuning smaller elements of state programs also is a given. Orwall said lawmakers will be looking closely to trim as much as they can, but to maintain some level of deliverance on services.
That holds especially true on services like health. Rather than cutting back on Medicaid prescription services, “maybe a better conversation is, ‘are they using generics,’” she said, noting the cost savings that can come of utilizing more generic drugs.
Given the financial crunch, look to see lawmakers evaluating a variety of options that previously may not have gone past the discussion level. For example, Orwall noted that last session there had been talk of combining school districts (in the state’s more sparsely populated rural regions) and that it may come up again this session.
One issue that Orwall expects to be revisiting this session is the state’s foreclosure crisis.
“One thing I would note is the state between 2009 to 2010 went from 25th to 10th in terms of foreclosures,” she said. “We studied it and found out banks were not doing the face-to-face (meetings with homeowners to work out alternative payment arrangements.)
Orwall last session was a successful sponsor of House Bill 5810, that sought to help remedy the foreclosure crisis by keeping lending institutions from issuing notices of default until 30 days after they have contacted the borrower to discuss alternative payment options.
This session, Orwall said she hopes be involved in passage of another bill to improve on that process, by adding options for a mediator, as well as state housing counselors who could walk imperiled homeowners through the banking process.
“I will be a prime sponsor on the house side,” she said.
Orwall also is on the Education Appropriations & Oversight Committee, and she acknowledged the upcoming difficulties of balancing the needs of students and educators with the reality of a massively cut budget.
Orwall said a major part of her focus for this session is K-4 funding (meaning kindergarten through fourth grade.)
“That’s the point where kids are entering school,” she said. “They need to be ready. I really think that’s the area where we could be contacting kids for years to come.”
In fact, she said, K-4 is an educational window that more than just K-4 teachers talk about, when it comes to providing better resources.
“I’ve talked to so many teachers who are in high schools, saying ‘please don’t cut funding,” she said, noting the lack of preparedness at those younger grade levels follows youngsters through their school careers.
Regardless of the outcome of this session, Orwall noted one thing will have to happen.
Democrats and Republicans are going to have to reach some kind of consensus on the budget.
“For me, I’ve seen a lot of partnerships across the aisle,” she said.
Rep. Tina Orwall
(D) 33rd District
Committees: Early Learning & Human Services; Education Appropriations & Oversight; Judiciary; Rules