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State shutdown may not be so bad

State employees should be receiving notices of potential layoffs in the coming days, if they haven’t already received them.

The notices were sent out Monday, just in case the Legislature is not able to come to a budget agreement by the time the current budget expires June 30.

While state officials are making it out to be a very big deal, I’m not so sure shutting down state operations for a bit would be a bad thing here in Okanogan County.

Maybe it’s just my perception, but government agencies continuing to operate “business as usual” leads to more regulations, less freedoms and more fines, penalties and enforcement actions of laws generally designed to improve the lifestyles of the rich and famous living west of the Cascade Mountains.

Look at it this way — the state needed money to run its parks program, so it created the Discover Pass.

The pass is required to access state parks and other public lands. Some of those lands amount to little more than a rest area, like the development at Beebe Bridge.

The end result has been reduced tourism here and reduced use of state lands, which in turn has lead to reduced revenues.

Then there was the state Department of Transportation’s plan to develop a roundabout on U.S. Highway 97 at the Okanogan exit.

Hello... how much money, time and effort were wasted by state employees trying to force their will on area residents who were never interested in a roundabout? Extend that effort around the state and you have a lot of waste.

Then there are state agencies created to hand out grants for nearly any kind of project fitting their political agenda.

The state collects money from you and I, then hires employees to count the money, ask for projects and return it to us for use in programs they see fit. Why not shut down those granting agencies and allow us to decide how best to spend money locally?

But it’s not just pet projects state officials squander our money on, it’s our resources.

State agencies have hampered our natural resource-based industries, and therefore, our communities.

For example, state regulations make it more difficult to cut, transport and sell timber. Yet, we need those regulations eased so our mills can restart and give the area a much needed economic boost.

Then there’s the state Department of Ecology, literally selling us down the river.

How so? 

The state’s water bank system is robbing us of the water we need to irrigate our ranches and crops, grow our population and improve amenities that would help sustain business growth and the economy.

Once water is in the “bank,” the water right is often handed off to groups claiming the water is needed for salmon and other critters downriver.

And what about the state’s early learning department?

That agency has come up with so many regulations and requirements that it’s nearly impossible to find good, affordable day care any more.

I guess what I’m saying is that shutting down a few state agencies and forcing employees and managers to re-evealuate the way they are spending taxpayer dollars isn’t such a bad thing.

Maybe a short government shutdown would open public employees’ eyes a bit, giving them a taste of the economic issues the rest of us have been facing for several years.

In the private sector, there is no guarantee of an annual pay raise. There is no guarantee of a job tomorrow.

For the first time in quite a while, some state employees will now know what it’s like not to have those guarantees.

Unfortunately, the 26,000 state employees getting those potential layoff notices aren’t generally in the regulatory side of government.

Gov. Jay Inslee’s office is threatening to shut down parks, end child care assistance and slash medical services.

That’s a shame.

Inslee has a chance here to reshape the state’s business-as-usual attitude by reducing the pencil-pushing staff of each state agency, instead of trying to make the public feel the budget pain.

But if that is necessary to get to a cut in the regulatory side of our government, I can get along without some state agencies and programs for a while.

So again, I’m not convinced shutting down state government for a short time is a bad thing.

Roger Harnack is the editor and publisher of The Chronicle. He can be reached at 509-826-1110 or via email at rharnack@omakchronicle.com.

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