Op-Ed: Governor’s painful budget cuts intended to soften opposition to tax increases
With the Legislature preparing to convene in Olympia Jan. 11 for its scheduled 60-day session, we are now beginning to get glimpses of how the governor and the majority party plan to handle a $2.6 billion budget shortfall.
By law, the governor is required to submit a supplemental budget plan to the Legislature based on current revenue. Last Wednesday, Gov. Gregoire unveiled her proposal, which she called “balanced, but unjust.”
The governor noted that up until last year, about 60 percent of the budget was “untouchable” — constitutionally protected, leaving about 40 percent from which cuts could be made. However, because the Legislature used $3.3 billion of federal stimulus money last spring to help close a $9 billion deficit, 70 percent of the state budget is now protected because the federal money came with strings attached. Within the other 30 percent is where she proposed an all-cuts supplemental budget, targeting several important programs for elimination, including:
- The state's Basic Health Plan, which provides health care coverage to nearly 65,000 individuals;
- Health care coverage for 16,000 low-income children;
- General Assistance Unemployable program, which provides cash grants for 23,000 adults and medical services to nearly 17,000 adults;
- Levy equalization, which provides extra support to school districts with a lower-than-average property tax base: and
- Early childhood education.
The governor also proposes closing residential centers for the developmentally disabled, reducing funding for colleges, and closing several correctional centers.
If these cuts sound harsh, they are. However, it's no accident that the governor is seeking painful cuts in the most emotionally driven areas of the budget. It's intentional. The purpose of proposing deep cuts that hurt kids, senior citizens and the state's most vulnerable population is to tug at the very heartstrings of Washingtonians — to motivate people by emotion and pain so they are more willing to accept tax increases. That's exactly what the governor plans to propose.
In January, the governor plans to introduce a second budget. This alternative budget will likely include tax increases to restore about $700 million in cuts she proposed in her first budget. The governor didn't say which taxes she would raise, although sales tax, business and occupation tax, and property tax are options.
I believe our state's economic problems should not be used as an excuse to raise taxes, but should be a reason to reform government — to find new and innovative ways to deliver services more efficiently and effectively.
Closing another large budget gap is no easy task. However, we need to keep in mind that families, individuals and employers have had to adjust their budgets and prioritize spending in these difficult times. It's time state government does the same without the governor threatening tax increases or inflicting greater pain on citizens who are also struggling in this economy.
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 e-mail him and sign up for his e-newsletter at: houserepublicans.wa.gov/Kristiansen.