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State employees must help reset government

The quarterly state revenue forecast we received Thursday reinforced the reality that budgets will be reduced across state government next year.

No one knows better than state employees that their employer is in a dire financial condition. They not only hear it through the news media, they hear it at staff meetings and in the hallways and read it in e-mails.

Some are understandably worried about their job security. Many also are frustrated because they look around their agencies and see missed opportunities for squeezing the most out of scarce dollars: My co-worker’s been told her program may be cut but they’re not going to let that pet project go? I firmly believe front-line state employees represent a great untapped resource that can help the Legislature address these fiscal concerns. They have intimate knowledge of the inner, day-to-day workings of their agencies. They know what works and what doesn’t; what can be done away with and what needs to be enhanced; where efficiencies can be achieved and where the Legislature should think twice about cutting.

Earlier this summer Gov. Chris Gregoire asked the people of our state to offer suggestions for her to consider when developing her next state budget proposal. But to my knowledge, no one has until now approached state workers directly about how we — legislators, who make policy, and state employees, who carry out those policies — can join forces to identify ways for government to continue providing core services effectively with less revenue.

Unfortunately, ideas for saving money and delivering state services more efficiently can sometimes be thwarted by politics, including fear of retribution in the workplace. Passing ideas up the management chain isn’t the same as sharing them directly with legislators who ultimately have the duty of writing the state operating budget.

Those of us who think it is past time to reset state government want to see state employees’ ideas for doing so. To that end, I ask for your help.

If you are a state employee, or someone familiar with the workings of state government, I hope you will take the time to submit your cost-saving ideas at this website: senatewmleadership.leg.wa.gov/. Your response will be anonymous unless you choose to include your name and contact information along with your idea.

In the spirit of bipartisanship and working together to consider these ideas for the budget, I recently invited my counterpart on the other side of the aisle to join me in this effort.

In fact, on Thursday morning we sent an e-mail to more than 50,000 state employees asking for their input — and more state workers have received the request since. The most important thing to me, as someone involved in the state budgeting process, is knowing that taxpayers are paying only for things we need, things that are a priority, and things we can afford.

State employees, with their unique ability to give policymakers and budget-writers insights into how we can best reset our state budget, are an excellent resource — one that has not been enlisted so directly before. Acting together, we can address this budget crisis, reset our spending priorities and build a sustainable government focused on what’s most important.

I thank state employees for their time, ideas and service.

Sen. Joseph Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, is budget leader for the Senate Republican Caucus, a member of the Economic Revenue and Forecast Council, and was appointed to the Governor’s Committee on Transforming Washington’s Budget. He has served in the state Senate since 1995 from Washington’s 18th Legislative District.