Too few cuts, too many tricks in the Senate Democrats' budget
The Seattle Times editorial board rejects the proposed budget offered by Senate Democrats in Olympia.
Seattle Times Editorial
THE supplemental state budget proposed by Senate Democrats in Olympia does not cut public schools or colleges, which are crucial to the state's future. That is the good part, for which we credit Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, chairman of Senate Ways and Means. The bad part is that the budget fills most of the projected deficit with accountants' tricks — a budding addiction the Legislature should kick.
Most troublesome is the push of a $330 million payment to school districts into the next budget period. The delayed payment is a bipartisan vice. Gov. Chris Gregoire used it in her proposed budget, and Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, and chairman of House Ways and Means, used it in his. Last year's Legislature used it, and Republican leaders agreed to it. It is bad because it puts the state in a financial hole at the beginning of the next budget cycle.
In addition to postponing the school payment, the Senate Democrats' budget drains much of the state's emergency reserve.
At Tuesday's news conference, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, admitted that her caucus's budget contained no reforms to address "the underlying structural issue" of a government greater than its revenues. She said legislators would take up reforms soon.
"Soon" should mean this session. At the top of the list should be four cost-reducing reforms: a rollback of subsidized early retirement for public employees, a consolidation of health benefits for school employees, a repeal of Initiative 728 and a new system of four-year budget balancing. At the very least, they should get a floor vote in both houses.
What we heard from Brown, however, was that the state's real problem is that it taxes too little. If revenues were where they should be, she said, the sales tax would have to be at 13 percent. She was not proposing to raise the sales tax, but hinting that the state needed some other revenue she did not name.
Less than two years ago, the people of Washington voted down an income tax for higher-income earners. The "no" vote was mostly by people who would not have had to pay, at least initially; it showed that people simply did not trust the Legislature to keep its hands from their money. There is no evidence this has changed. The people know they have to live within their means and believe government should do the same.
That ought to be the principle of the budget. What's needed is a proposal that is based on real revenues, that supports schools and colleges first and spends the rest of the money on the most important things government does. Sen. Joe Zarelli, a Ridgefield Republican who is the ranking minority member on Ways and Means, said his caucus would offer a budget like that, designed so that moderate Democrats of both houses could support it.
Bring it on.