May 06, 2004

Dino Rossi (R WA-Gov)

Dino Rossi never planned to run for governor, or for any office. The commercial real estate investment broker started helping out with other people’s campaigns, and eventually he says that he was encouraged to run himself. He currently chairs the Senate Ways and Means Committee in the state legislature, the committee responsible for the state budget.

In fact, the budget passed by the legislature this year is Sen. Rossi’s proudest legislative accomplishment. When he was on the Ways and Means committee as a member of the minority, he felt that he was not consulted enough, and didn’t want to perpetuate that.

Before the session, he traveled around the state to talk with several moderate Democrats. He said that he wouldn’t pass a budget that raised taxes, but also wouldn’t balance the budget at the expense of the least fortunate. He told them that the “problem is too big for one party to solve.” He was looking for a “philosophical majority instead of a partisan majority.” Four Democrats agreed to work with him.

They passed 50 bills off the Senate floor, all of them necessary to pull together the full $23 billion budget package. None passed on a strict party line vote.

Rossi says that $2.8 billion of the deficit was caused by promised pay increases to state employees, including teachers. He says he didn’t want to raise taxes on the state’s quarter million unemployed to give raises to people who already had jobs. The raises for teachers, as well as decreased class sizes and an extension of health care for low income workers, were mandated by ballot initiatives passed by voters.

When asked about budget cuts for education, Rossi says that supposed budget cuts are just “Olympia cuts.” An Olympia cut, he says, would be like his daughter asking for a $100 allowance, getting $5, and saying that she’d gotten a 95% allowance cut.

For K-12 education, Rossi says the new budget adds raises for beginning teachers, ensuring that no grade school teacher in Washington state will make less than $30,000 a year. He says he tried to pass a raise for school support staff, such as cafeteria and janitorial workers, but that the opposition held out for across the board raises, which also didn’t pass.

For higher education, Rossi says the budget plans for the 2008 graduating class, which will be the largest in state history. It allocates $750 million over 6 years for new construction on college campuses.

Rossi points out awards from the AARP and an organization representing the developmentally disabled as proof “that you can be fiscally conservative and still have a social conscience.” He says it shows that you can have a balanced budget without harming the most disadvantaged.

Rossi believes that the most important issue facing the state is getting back to work. He says that Washington has one of the nation’s highest unemployment rates, and that many of his constituents on the Sammamish Plateau are out of work for the first time in their adult lives.

“Boeing didn’t go to France,” he says, but to Chicago. He also brings up the case of Airborne leaving for Florida, saying that the state’s business climate isn’t competitive with the rest of the country. He says that high workers’ compensation and unemployment costs contribute to the situation.

Rossi also says he voted to boost tax credits for land conservancy, and increase fines for oil spills. He looks to noted conservationist and Republican, Theodore Roosevelt, as an example for environmental policy. Rossi sits on the board of the Mountain to Sound Greenway, an organization that works to restore plant habitat along the I-90 corridor.

Other legislation Rossi has supported includes Washington State’s Defense of Marriage Act, mandating ignition air locks for DUI offenders, increasing penalties for hit-and-run drivers, and a two strikes law against child molesters. Rossi said that when it came to passing the two strikes law, they had to find a different set of parents to testify at each of four hearings, because none of them could handle testifying more than once.

Find out more about Dino Rossi at his website.

Posted by natasha at May 6, 2004 06:15 AM | WA Politics | Technorati links |