Opinion editorial by Rep. Dan Kristiansen: Washington’s citizens deserve better than ‘duct-tape’ budget fixes
When lawmakers arrived Nov. 28 at the state Capitol for a special session, many of my fellow legislators and I were hopeful we could vote within the first couple days on a solution that would close a $2 billion state operating budget gap without raising taxes — and then go home, thus saving taxpayers the expense of an extended session. To our dismay, the majority party had no plan ready — even 67 days after Gov. Gregoire announced a special session. It took another 16 days before a plan emerged — and then the measure (House Bill 2058) was only a partial solution that reduced the budget by less than $480 million. Most disappointing, there were no reforms to prioritize spending in the state budget, as we had proposed.
Republican Leader Richard DeBolt described it this way during a speech on the House floor: “This is something we could have done in a day. This is not a plan. This is not a grand design. This is one of those duct-tape fixes.”
I compare it to making the minimum payment on a credit card. The balance on the credit card doesn't go away and the expenses continue to grow.
Certainly I'm disappointed, but not surprised the Legislature kicked the can down the road once again. It has historically and repeatedly avoided facing reality – even when reality is staring it in the face.
For example, in 2007 when the state was enjoying a multi-billion dollar revenue surplus, that would have been the time to set money aside for difficult times ahead. During an interview in March 2007 on TVW, I said, “Economists know that every 10 to 12 years, we're going to go through a recession. Quite frankly, we are due for one in a short amount of time and we've got to be prepared. We need to be taking more aggressive steps to make sure we have good money sitting there.”
Instead, the Legislature ignored those warnings and spent all of the surplus. It was 20 months later the economy dipped into recession — and the state was ill-prepared. Since then, the Legislature has adopted patchwork fixes on budgets that evolve into deficits because majority party leaders refuse to accept economic realities and the state refuses to live within its means. The governor thinks a half-billion dollar state sales tax increase is the solution, but the Washington State Wire, an online Capitol news outlet, noted, “State spending is so far out of line with tax revenue that even if lawmakers pass a dilly of a tax increase this year, they're going to be back again next year facing the same problem, and the next, and the next.” Without reforms, it said the state could be facing a budget deficit exceeding $7 billion by 2017.
When the Legislature meets in regular session beginning Jan. 9, it has a $1.5 billion budget problem remaining. Businesses and families sat down a long time ago and adjusted their budgets to economic realities. It's time the Legislature does the same. That means no more kicking the can down the road. It means setting spending priorities so that we fund education, public safety and protection of our state's most vulnerable citizens, and abandon non-essential services and programs that have been a drag on the budget. It also means focusing on private-sector job creation that will spur additional state revenue as people have incomes to spend more.
In 2010, after the majority party passed $800 million in tax increases that voters later repealed, a Seattle Times editorial injected a dose of common sense the Legislature could use today, saying, “The people and their legislators need to put further tax increases out of their minds. They need to reset government so that its appetite matches its revenue. The state must live within the revenue it has. Gov. Gary Locke did it seven years ago. He called it Priorities of Government and it worked.”
Washington's citizens deserve better than a duct-tape budget. The solution is for the Legislature to return to a budget based on Priorities of Government without tax increases — a budget that is sustainable and forces the state to do what the rest of us must — to live within its means.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Rep. Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, serves as chairman of the Washington House Republican Caucus and represents the 39th Legislative District. He can be contacted at (360) 786-7967 or e-mail him through his Web site at: houserepublicans.wa.gov/Kristiansen. His office address is: P.O. Box 40600, Olympia, WA 98504-0600.