Focus on fiscal restraint has public benefits

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After four years of carving away raises, benefits and jobs, state workers (and their families) are frustrated with the Legislature. So, too, is the public as functions of government have been reduced or eliminated.

And that’s why all eyes are on how the Senate and House are spending tax dollars — particularly when it directly impacts lawmakers.

A headline from the Tacoma News Tribune on Jan. 25 declared: “State House will start voting with new, costly roll-call system.”

A decade ago the purchase of a roll-call system wouldn’t have even warranted a story. Its cost would have gone unnoticed. Not today.

The same goes for legislators’ cellphone bills. The Associated Press combed through cellphone bills to find out just how much of our money lawmakers spend using their cellphones.

Turns out the bills for some members of the Legislature were considerably higher than the bills run up by families — even those with teenagers.

Several lawmakers of both parties had bills from over $180 dollars to nearly $400 a month. When questioned about it, the conclusion was they had signed up for a lousy plan or didn’t take care to separate their bills from others on their plan.

Would they have been so easygoing about the bill if it was on their dime? Unlikely.

In the wake of AP looking into cellphone use, lawmakers with hefty bills said they will be more careful in the future and shop for the most cost effective cellphone plan.

Before the high-tech voting machines were installed, the question of how much it cost was asked and asked.

All the bills for the voting-machine rehabilitation project have not yet come in, The News Tribune reported, but it is “spendy,” as House Chief Clerk Barbara Baker put it. The estimate is $670,000.

The Democratic majority members who ordered the equipment justified it by saying the old system was on the verge of failing beyond repair and that installing new technology is expensive. They say they, too, are concerned about spending that much money, but they argue it had to be done.

Minority Republicans are taking the opportunity to jab at Democrats for the big purchase, but no attempts were made to block it even though GOP leadership peppered the Democrats with questions.

The bottom line is the purchase is simply the cost of doing business.

The fact lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle asked questions, voiced concerns and were trying to keep costs as low as possible, is a positive development. So, too, is the concern by legislators over cellphone bills and dry cleaning (even if they were nudged in that direction by embarrassment).

More legislators and other government officials are — whether on their own or with a push — starting to treat our money like their money.

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