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Originally published September 22, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified September 22, 2008 at 12:02 PM

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A hole in the budget

After the deficit in the next state budget increased by $529 million Thursday, Gov. Christine Gregoire called on her director of finance...

After the deficit in the next state budget increased by $529 million Thursday, Gov. Christine Gregoire called on her director of finance to suggest $200 million in immediate cuts. It was a good move, if late.

The governor blamed the shortfall on the disaster in Wall Street and, by implication, on the Bush administration. That was not altogether convincing. Whatever the cause of the Wall Street crisis — and we think most of the blame is in the private sector — some kind of economic downturn would have happened eventually, and Gregoire's budget was not ready for it.

Ever since she took office in 2005, the governor has offered an aggressive budget that assumed good times would continue.

Last November, the state's next-biennium revenue forecast fell by more than $100 million for the first time in four years. At the time, we said it was a signal of bad times — that historically, when revenue forecasts have started to fall, they have tended to keep falling. The Republicans also said so, and on this matter they were right. Gregoire wasn't convinced. She argued that the economy had come to the rescue of her budget before and it might again.

Now she is convinced. That is good, but the projected deficit is now $3.2 billion, nearly 10 percent of the total, and is almost sure to be deeper by January.

There are also two statewide ballot measures, Tim Eyman's Initiative 985 and the Service Employees International Union's Initiative 1029, that would deepen the projected deficit by using general-fund money for new purposes. A possible court ruling on full funding for public schools could deepen the deficit even more.

For Gregoire, for challenger Dino Rossi and for all the candidates for Legislature, this means one thing: Talk less about the things you want the state to do more of, and more about the things you want it to do less of. We are entering an economic winter, and when the Legislature convenes in January, the people will be in no mood for higher taxes, fees or other gimmicks.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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