Northwest NEWS

November 22, 1999


Guest Editorial

I-695 message was clear--if lawmakers were listening

by Rep. Kathy Lambert

   The message voters sent when they approved Initiative 695 was loud and clear. I fear, however, that some elected officials were not listening very carefully. Consider these responses in various articles following election day:

   These responses concern me, because that's not what I heard citizens saying. What I heard is that citizens want government to deliver services more efficiently.

   The people have given us their direction to start running government more like a business. They want us to reduce waste and still protect priority services such as public safety, transportation, and education. Anyone who thinks this vote was a message to cut or eliminate important services just was not listening.

   I will not allow government to punish citizens for voting themselves a tax cut. It's high time government began to function like a business and be mindful of the fact that we are not spending government's money--it is the people's hard-earned dollars.

   My business background tells me we have a lot of room for efficiency before we start talking about cutting into the services people want and deserve from government. So where do we begin?

   You may not remember, but not more than a year ago, negotiations over the state operating budget failed when the Senate gained control of the votes and used it to quash ideas for improving government efficiency. I had several amendments to the budget and ideas last year for cutting costs and wasteful spending, but the people's voice was shut out of the budget process.

   Now the people's voice is going to be heard. Competitive bidding, contracting services, eliminating agency lobbying, evaluating comparative costs for services, and cutting the number of agencies providing duplicate services--these are all reforms that we've been proposing to implement to make government more efficient. I also want to look at some of the fundamental ways government operates.

   Did you know that when government agencies administer funding for local programs the agencies keep a percentage of the money for administrative fees? Some agencies "pass through" 90 percent of the funding or more. Others pass through less than 70 percent, keeping the rest.

   I want to get a handle on how much government agencies are charging for these "pass through" fees. Every dollar they keep is a dollar that fails to go to its intended purpose. I also want to review the way government purchases supplies and materials.

   Are taxpayers paying a competitive price? Is government shopping around, demanding a fair price for supplies and spending your tax dollars wisely? My sense is that it is not. These are good places to start if we can overcome the bitterness exhibited above by some elected officials and work together to enact I-695 the way people want it to be done.

   In the end, I predict we're going to see a trickle-down effect of greater efficiency at all levels of government. As part of this process, we're going to be asking local city and county officials to identify mandates and regulations they'd like to see removed.

   Initiative 695 is not an "emergency," as the governor has declared. Enacting the will of the people is not an emergency. It is an opportunity to reinvent government and restore the people's trust in the way it is managed and the way services are delivered. Government will have to start treating citizens like customers.

   To that I say: It's about time.

Rep. Kathy Lambert is a state representative from the 45th Legislative District and serves on the House Appropriations Committee.