When the state Legislature gave final approval this spring to fixes for the state budget, it counted on the federal government kicking in $480 million to fund a huge increase in Medicaid use.
It hasn't happened yet. And, unfortunately, the U.S. Senate delayed its vote Monday on allocating those funds, which are part of a $25 billion appropriation for more medical and school aid for state governments.
The downturn in the economy put more folks out of work and needing government assistance for their medical care.
But the state had fewer dollars to pay for Medicaid care -- and everything else -- as tax collections were far less than previous projections.
As a result, Washington needs the federal money -- and it needs it now.
Without the anticipated federal cash the state is looking at a $300 million shortfall. The budget problems will continue to grow worse unless state spending is reduced.
Gov. Chris Gregoire had set a Monday deadline for leaders of the Democrat-controlled state Legislature to say whether they would call a short special session (with short being the operative word) to make budget adjustments.
On Tuesday, Democratic leaders declined. Democrats are apparently divided on what should be cut so a special session would not be short -- or pleasant.
The alternative to a special session is for the governor to order across-the-board cuts of up to 4 percent, which is what at least one legislative leader favors.
"My personal view is we should continue to do the across-the-board cuts -- cuts that could only last from now until we go back into session in January," House Ways and Means Chairwoman Kelli Linville, D-Bellingham, said. "I think going into special session, there is no guarantee there will be any agreements."
But Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, contend across-the-board cuts hit worthy programs just as hard as those that can afford reductions. In a letter sent to Gregoire last week, Hewitt and Sen. Joe Zarelli said across-the-board cuts hit the developmentally disabled, for example, at the same rate as they hit tourism programs.
We, too, favor a special session rather than across-the-board cuts if -- and only if -- an agreement can be reached before lawmakers gather in Olympia.
It would be a waste of tax dollars to call the Legislature into session only to have lawmakers bicker among themselves for weeks. That nonsense occurred this spring. The result was the current budget, which we said at the time was put together with duct tape and was not sustainable.
Lawmakers -- Democrats and Republicans -- need to make difficult and unpopular decisions about what should and shouldn't be funded. The sooner they accept that reality, the sooner Washington can really get the current budget mess under control.