April 21, 2009
State Budget: Deficits, Priorities and Taxes
By Sen. Cheryl Pflug
No matter what else you hear about the proposed 2009-2011 state budget, remember this: The state still forecasts revenues will exceed those of the 2007-2009 biennium, not including the nearly $3 billion in federal stimulus money coming our way.How can that be, you ask? We are confronted daily with messages about the devastation to K-12 education, eliminating space for 10,000 students in our colleges and universities, loss of health coverage for the poor and the “budget crisis.” Is that exaggeration? Well, maybe a little — but there are definitely some big cuts under consideration.
The $9 billion deficit
With the release of the Senate and House budget proposals, it became clear that many politicians define “deficit” as the gap between what they want to spend and the money available. Until the economy improves, we just can’t afford all those “good ideas.” Frankly, some of those ideas aren’t all that good — in any economy.
Over the past four years, the state budget ballooned a whopping 33 percent and the rate of spending growth exceeded the rate of revenues by more than two and a half times. To accomplish this, legislators spent what should have been viewed as one-time money to support ongoing programs. That is like spending your life savings on the down payment for a yacht — with no idea how to pay back the rest of the loan.
Washington’s leaders made down payments on a lot of luxury programs. Now, they must not only suspend those programs, but they’re scrambling to fund desperately needed safety-net services as more citizens find themselves in need of temporary assistance. Wouldn’t it be nice if the money that went to those “down payments” had been set aside instead for this rainy day?
It’s all about priorities
I’m sure you will share my frustration over some of the cuts being considered, since that same budget actually proposes to increase salaries and benefits for certain state employees. Illegal aliens would still get taxpayer-supported health care while many young adults who are citizens or here legally remain unable to buy affordable health insurance. We’ll also see cuts to K-12 education, nursing homes, services to the developmentally disabled and mentally ill, and hospital payments.
One predictable cut was funding for the state auditor’s performance audits of public agencies. These audits were mandated and permanently funded when Washington citizens passed Initiative 900. Our state auditor has used them to expose waste and recommend reforms to save hundreds of millions of dollars. Now, more than ever, we should place a high value on performance accountability and reform. Yet the more-government crowd jumped at the excuse to remove this thorn from its side.
The poison pill
If you think the pain of layoffs, a depressed economy and the suffering of our most vulnerable is too horrible, you are responding exactly the way the big spenders hope you will. Democrats are maneuvering to offer you the opportunity to “buy back” state services via a tax increase.
In fact, recently some of you called to report receiving a telephone call asking if you would support a possible temporary four-tenths of a percent sales tax increase — and if you were likely to vote.
I hope you answered clearly, “I can’t afford a tax increase!” and “You bet I’ll vote!”
Reach Sen. Cheryl Pflug at 360-786-7608 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment on this op-ed at www.issaquahpress.com.