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Originally published October 19, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified October 31, 2008 at 12:29 PM

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Dino Rossi for governor

Elect Dino Rossi, Republican, governor of Washington, not the incumbent Democratic governor, Christine Gregoire.

Dino Rossi should be elected governor Nov. 4 because he can best be trusted to erase the state's huge projected deficit without raising taxes.

Under Gov. Christine Gregoire, state government during the good years built up a mass of programs, promises and public spending. Now the economy is in recession, and unless taxes are to be raised on people already struggling — a bad idea — state spending will have to be cut about 10 percent. To do that, the people need a governor who has a track record of budget reduction and is politically empowered to do it. That would be Rossi.

In the last recession, in 2003, Republican state Sen. Rossi took a tough budget proposed by Democratic Gov. Gary Locke — a budget that legislators weren't sure Locke really believed in — and made it believable. The Rossi-Locke budget saved the people from increases in major taxes and helped unleash a strong economic rebound.

Now Rossi promises to do it again, and we believe he can and will.

We are not confident Gregoire will be as tough. When she talks about spending, she sounds as reasonable as Locke always did, and this page supported Locke. But Gregoire has increased spending much faster than Locke: In four years she has increased it by one-third.

We do not come to this dispute late. In the spring of 2005, we said Gregoire's first budget, plus the add-ons from Democrats in the Legislature, increased spending 12 percent on an estimated 7 percent increase in revenues. We said it wouldn't work. In the short run, we were wrong: The economy was on an up cycle, and revenues went up more than 7 percent.

She got lucky.

In December 2006, Gregoire proposed a new, two-year budget. It was a happy one, with raises for teachers, home-care workers and state employees. Her suggested increase in spending was 12 percent. The revenue forecast was 8 percent. Again, we thought spending was too big, but there were some savings from the previous year. We warned there could be trouble in 2009.

It is now almost 2009, and Gregoire's luck has run out: The downturn looks to be worse than anyone suspected. In September, the projected 2009-2011 deficit was pegged at $3.2 billion. By next spring it will likely be at least $4 billion and maybe $5 billion.

Under fire from Rossi, Gregoire has promised a budget with no new taxes. But will she offer a budget that is defensible, and really defend it? How hard will she fight against her own party, which controls the Legislature? How hard will she lean against the public-employee unions, which now support her re-election?

Rossi doesn't have those problems. When he says he'll cut spending, you can believe him, because he has done it, and because he represents a constituency that wants it done.

Consider one example: the proportion of health insurance paid by the employee. In the private sector, the employee's share differs, but averages more than a third. At the state, the employee's share is 12 percent.

A few months ago, Gregoire agreed to keep it at 12 percent. She could try to take back this gift, but it would be difficult. For Rossi, it would not be so difficult. He would probably say that in the midst of an economic crisis, it was unfair to save an employee's benefit by raising taxes on other employees who don't have that benefit.

There are other reasons to support Rossi, starting with the Democratic Party's control of the bureaucracy in Olympia for the past 24 years. No party should be given power for that long — but some of the Republican nominees over the past two decades were simply not credible. Rossi is. He is the best Republican candidate for governor in a long time. He would bring change to the culture of Olympia — and change is good.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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