Across-the-board budget cuts not best option

Washington state lawmakers need to take action. However, Gov. Gregoire has wisely suggested broad cuts in the absence of a budget solution.

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It's a surprise to nobody -- particularly legislators -- the state budget has developed another leak. The duct tape lawmakers used to patch together the recession-riddled budget last spring isn't holding.

The number crunchers in Olympia reported last week state revenue for June and July was $125 million less than projected. Gov. Chris Gregoire is concerned, as she should be, next month's revenue report will be as bleak.

So, in an effort to keep this leak from becoming a gusher, Gregoire has told state agencies to prepare for across-the-board cuts of between 4 and 7 percent.

Gregoire is wise to sound the alarm now. The sooner budget concerns can be addressed, the easier -- relatively speaking -- it will be to get the budget on track.

Yet, implementing across-the-board cuts isn't necessarily the best way to proceed.

The Legislature, controlled by Gregoire's fellow Democrats, has not been open to reducing spending to the point where the budget would be sustainable. There is no agreement on what can be cut. This has limited the governor's options.

Unfortunately, it's the public that suffers the most.

Sen. Joe Zarelli, ranking Republican on the Senate Ways and Means Committee, believes the state would be better served if lawmakers made targeted cuts.

Zarelli said the governor's office released an outline showing what a 3.6 percent across-the-board cut, effective Sept. 1, would look like to individual agency budgets.

Total agency reductions would be $232 million and would not impact constitutionally protected areas such as basic education, pensions and debt service, Zarelli said. The deep cuts would come to agencies such as the Department of Social and Health Services and the Department of Corrections.

"There is a better option," Zarelli wrote in Budget Tidbits, the newsletter he regularly distributes via e-mail. "There are more than 45 days between now and Oct. 1 The Legislature should review the governor's list of agency impacts at the 3.6 percent level and ask itself -- can we do better by the citizens of the state of Washington?

"And, if the answer is yes, then legislators should agree to have the budget leads from each caucus spend the next 30 days working together on a bipartisan plan to address the deficit and then to assemble shortly after the September revenue forecast to put that plan into action. If budget writers cannot agree on a plan, then the governor can still move forward on across-the-board cuts.

"And, if the answer to the question above is no, then legislators should examine their conscience and ask themselves why exactly they are in public office."

The impact of the budget is real -- many lives will be dramatically changed as jobs will be lost and medical care is eliminated. Lawmakers can't leave it to the governor to do this difficult job.

They have an obligation to step up and make budget cuts that best serve the citizens of Washington state.

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