Local Republican lawmakers expect to wrestle with another $3 billion to $5 billion budget deficit when they return to Olympia in January.
But they're hopeful their numbers will have swelled enough in the upcoming November election that they will have more say in how the budget is written.
"We are anticipating having another horrible budget year," Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, told the Pasco Chamber of Commerce at a luncheon on Monday.
"There is a lot of policy on the books that has to be turned around -- paid family leave and things of that nature," Hewitt said. "It's not going to be a pretty session."
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Republicans have played little to no role in writing budgets in Olympia for the past few years as Democrats have held not only the Governor's Mansion, but a near-supermajority in both houses of the state Legislature.
"We have literally been kept out of the conversation," Hewitt said.
Hewitt and 16th District seatmates Reps. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla, and Terry Nealey, R-Dayton, said the political tide may be turning enough to give Republicans a stronger voice in the Legislature.
The balance in the House right now is 61 Democrats to 37 Republicans, although Rep. Tom Campbell, R-Roy, typically behaves more as an independent, Walsh said. Republicans would need to pick up 13 seats, or 14 to compensate for Campbell, to have a 50-vote majority.
Walsh said she doesn't see the party earning enough seats to swing the House, but does think they'll win enough new members to make Democrats sit up and listen.
"We will be working on a more even keel," Walsh said.
Hewitt was more optimistic about his chances of winning a majority in the 49-member Senate, where Republicans would need to add seven seats to the 18 they hold now to have a 25-vote majority.
As minority leader, it's Hewitt's job to recruit Republican candidates to run for the Senate, and he thinks he has a crop of winners this year.
"I have seven candidates I think are outstanding," he said. "I have two Harvard grads, a Stanford grad, one who went to Yale, a couple of (huskies) and a couple of cougs. A couple are self-made millionaires. They're retired, and they're running for the Legislature. I predict our chances at least in the Senate are very, very good if not to take the majority at least to even up the numbers."
And if the Republicans get a shot at the next biennial budget, Hewitt said he'd start by eliminating policies the state can't afford, like its "retire/rehire" program that allows state retirees to return to the state workforce and earn a paycheck while also drawing a pension.
Hewitt said the plan originally was intended to entice teachers back into the workforce to fill a shortage, but was expanded to other state employees on the floor of the Legislature.
"We should wipe that off the books," he said. "Then we would have slots for people who are unemployed today to move up into the system."
One thing the three 16th District lawmakers would protect is funding for education, including early learning programs.
Walsh said science has shown that early learning programs help prepare kids for school and prevent problems later, but it can be one of the first items put on the chopping block when cuts are discussed.
"Prevention is the hardest thing to sell in the Legislature because you can't prove you've prevented anything," she said.
Tri-Citians living in the 16th District can contact Hewitt, Walsh and Nealey through their Pasco office at 2815 St. Andrews Loop or call 543-3325.