Sehlin shares power in Olympia

"Newly elected Rep. Barry Sehlin, R-Oak Harbor, has been handed one of the most powerful positions in the 2001 session of the Washington State Legislature, which convenes Jan. 8.House Co-speaker Clyde Ballard this week appointed Sehlin co-chair of the House Appropriations Committee. Since the House is split 49-49 between Democrats and Republicans, Sehlin will co-chair the committee with Helen Sommers, D-Ballard.Sehlin won election in November by unseating Clinton Democrat Dave Anderson, who had served one term as a 10th District Representative. But it wasn't Sehlin's first experience in winning elections. He served in the House from 1993 to 1998, the last four years as chair of the House Capital Budget Committee, before stepping down to help his wife Susan in her fight against cancer. She made a full recovery, and Sehlin re-entered the political fray.As co-chair of Appropriations, Sehlin will be one of the leaders in writing the new state budget. The task will be daunting as spending demands always exceed the supply of money. That is especially true this year as voters approved two initiatives which guarantee teachers an annual cost of living pay increase and funnel more money to schools to reduce class sizes. What remains will be fought over fiercely by other interests.During his campaign against Anderson, Sehlin suggested he could well be appointed chair of Appropriations. Speaker Ballard had as much as guaranteed him that to entice him to run against Anderson and help regain a Republican majority. But voters once again split the House between the two parties and the best Ballard could offer was the co-chairmanship.I'm very pleased, said Sehlin on Thursday, the day after Ballard announced the appointment. He was in Olympia moving furniture into his apartment and otherwise getting ready for the 2001 session.Sehlin expressed no doubts about working with Democrat Sommers as co-chair. I've worked with Helen Sommers for a long time, he said. She's a neat lady. I like and respect her an awful lot.Except for transportation, which has its own budget, all state operational expenses are funneled through the House Appropriations Committee. Sehlin expects a $1 billion gap between budget demands and the available money for the next biennium.Gov. Gary Locke has proposed narrowing that gap by raising the voter-approved spending lid. He thinks voters implicitly approved that concept when they OK'd the two expensive education initiatives. Locke also wants to spend a good portion of the state's reserve account.Sehlin isn't jumping on the governor's budget bandwagon. He said the education initiatives clearly stated that added education funding should be taken out of existing revenues. As for spending a large part of the reserves, Sehlin described that policy as just irresponsible.Sehlin offered no magic budget solution, and he expects a tough session of the Legislature. As for the billion dollar budget problem, he said, It's got to be resolved somehow. "

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