To avoid future budget crises, Legislature must change old habits
Two years ago, Washington had a $2 billion budget surplus. Although revenues were up, the Legislature approved a 2007-09 operating budget that spent $1.3 billion more than the state expected to take in. That irresponsible overspending of $3.3 billion, combined with an economic recession, is what sent Washington spiraling into a deep budget crisis this year.
Before the Legislature adjourns this Sunday, it must adopt a new two-year operating budget. You would think lawmakers would avoid making the same mistakes that got us into this mess. Unfortunately, this latest budget proposal would continue to INCREASE spending. It would also rely on one-time money from the federal stimulus package and other state funds to pay for ongoing programs. That’s $5 billion the state will not have in two years. The Legislature is essentially punting its problems into the future.
To avoid future deficits, the Legislature must begin to change its spending habits. My House Republican colleagues and I have proposed several ways to do this:
- House Bill 1458 would require a fiscal note to be established before final passage of any bill before the Washington State Legislature.
When voting, lawmakers frequently have no idea how much a bill will cost the taxpayers. We should know the price tag before final passage.
- House Bill 1654 would establish a five-day waiting period before either legislative body could vote on the operating, capital or transportation budgets.
Frequently, we’ve had to vote on a budget bill that is still warm from the copy machine. The public’s trust of government is undermined when legislators have no idea what spending items are included.
- House Bill 1655 would require the Legislature to adopt a balanced budget.
While the governor is statutorily obligated to propose a balanced budget, there is currently no requirement for the Legislature to adopt one.
- House Bill 2228 would prohibit the governor or the Legislature from proposing an operating budget deemed unsustainable in the ensuing biennium, or the following biennium after that.
This measure would help to prevent future deficits by making sure we are looking long-term at the budget and incoming revenue.
- House Joint Resolution 4207 would limit spending to an increase in the state’s population and inflation growth over the previous three years.
Overspending is what got Washington in this budget crisis. We need to reinstate the spending limit voters approved 16 years ago that for many years protected taxpayers.
- House Joint Resolution 4209 would require exceptional state revenue to be deposited into the state’s “rainy day fund” during good economic times.
If we had put more money away during good times, this year’s budget crisis would not have been as severe.
Finally, we must commit to a no-new-taxes budget of priorities that make a clear distinction between what the Legislature wants and what taxpayers can afford. Individuals and families must do more with less. State government should do the same. Raising taxes would only prolong this economic recession. As Winston Churchill noted, “For a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle.”
Solving this crisis requires making essential changes in budgeting, setting priorities, and forcing the state to live within its means – now and in the future.
EDITOR’S NOTE: State Rep. Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, represents the 39th Legislative District, and also serves as chairman of the Washington House Republican Caucus. He can be contacted at (360) 786-7967 or from his Web site at: houserepublicans.wa.gov/Kristiansen.