Once again there's bad news out of Olympia about the state budget. The predicted shortfall in revenue is now over $2 billion.
And the Democrats who control the House, Senate and governor's mansion say they must now consider higher taxes to avoid deep, painful cuts to services.
Lawmakers and Gov. Chris Gregoire have been sending signals for the past year that -- despite their no-new-taxes rhetoric on the campaign trail in 2008 -- that at some point they will make a move to increase taxes.
Raising taxes at this time would be a mistake.
Washington, like the rest of the nation, appears to be emerging from the recession -- albeit slowly. The economic recovery could be stalled by higher taxes.
Beyond that, higher taxes aren't necessary. The Legislature needs to reduce spending, which means freezing pay for state workers and purchases as wellas make strategic cuts to services. This has to be done sooner rather than later.
To this point, lawmakers have avoided dramatic cuts as they've plugged holes with one-time budget fixes such as stimulus money.
While that has kept people employed, it has also allowed state spending to continue at a pace that can't be sustained. A reality check is in order.
State budget requests are essentially wish lists. So the cuts lawmakers make are not necessarily cuts to spending from the previous budget cycle, but cuts to the wish list. The amount of money collected in taxes for the previous two-year budget cycle has essentially been the same as the projections for the current budget cycle. But now the forecast for future revenue is going down.
Lawmakers have to get a handle on spending right now, which means actually spending less money than is generated by taxes.
Again, higher taxes aren't the answer and not just because of the hit on the economy. A move to raise taxes will also create a huge political backlash.
In order for lawmakers to raise taxes they would, as mandated by Initiative 960 approved in 2007, be required to do so by a two-thirds majority or a vote of the people. Either would bedifficult to attain. The third option would be for lawmakers to suspend I-960, which they can do with a simple majority.
Going that route would fuel the anti-tax, anti-government movement and spur yet another initiative that drastically reduces taxes and slashes spending.
Government plays an important role in providing service we can't provide for ourselves -- everything from education to public safety.
We believe those and other government services must be maintained, which is why lawmakers need to get spending under control now.