How would you balance the state budget?
When lawmakers convene next Monday, Jan. 12, for the scheduled 105-day legislative session in Olympia, they will be faced with solving a record budget deficit exceeding $5.7 billion.
In terms of sheer numbers, it will be a daunting task. To put it in perspective, the budget gap is nearly twice the size of the entire $2.91 billion general fund budget for the state of Idaho. If every state employee in Washington worked for free for 22 of 24 months in the coming biennium, we could solve our budget woes. No one expects that to happen, but it paints the enormity of this crisis.
In the coming months, you'll hear the national economy blamed for this deficit. That's only partially correct. A large part of the problem is state spending has increased by 33 percent — more than $8 billion — since 2005.
The untold story is that Washington will still take in 5 percent more revenue in the 2009-11 biennium than in this budget cycle. As a former employer, I'd be pleased to have a 5 percent increase in my small business. But I couldn't stay in business long if I spent far more money than I took in. And that's the point. Washington doesn't have a revenue problem. State revenues are increasing. We have a spending problem.
So how do we balance the state budget? There are only two ways: reduce spending or increase taxes.
I strongly disagree with tax increases. Raising taxes is not the right approach while families are struggling with everyday expenses and workers are losing jobs. I will be voting against tax increases if they are proposed in the budget.
We need innovative ways to reduce spending while still delivering essential services and protecting the most vulnerable. The impact can be lessened if within the first five days of the session the Legislature approves a spending reduction for the current fiscal year which ends June 30. If we can immediately implement $500 million of savings in the supplemental budget, we can save $2 billion from the projected shortfall for the 2009-11 biennium.
I also plan to dig deep into the budget, looking line-by-line for savings, such as whether funding should continue for hundreds of commissions and boards, some of which rarely meet. Savings can be achieved if we scrutinize such areas in the budget.
Some groups are circling the wagons, saying, “Don't cut my program.” It's important to remember that only in Olympia is a “cut” a reduction of a spending increase. I would echo what the governor recently said: “Please don't say, 'Don't cut this.' That doesn't help us. Please say, 'Here, I have a better alternative.'”
Simply put, we need your ideas. Where should reductions be made? How could we preserve essential services? How could the state be more efficient with your tax dollars? How would you balance the state budget?
Washington faces one of the biggest budget challenges in its history. It won't be easy, but if we all work together using the best ideas, we can get through this crisis. I welcome your comments and suggestions.
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.