State's budget process built on politics

The governor and legislators are writing budgets they know aren't realistic.


Why are state lawmakers -- and state and local government officials -- churning over deep, painful budget cuts that very likely (as in nearly certain) won't occur?

Well, that's because the official budget out of the governor's office goes after so many necessary and important functions of government that its passage would be a huge blow to the state's future. Our education system, from kindergarten to college, would be damaged. Social programs that help those who can't help themselves would be destroyed.

So why would Gov. Chris Gregoire, a staunch supporter of education and a friend to those in need, offer such a mean-spirited budget?

Ahh, she used the budget process to show the horrific impact of $2.6 billion in cuts. Gregoire conceded as much as she quickly distanced herself from her own budget saying she would prefer new taxes to making these unreasonable cuts.

Unfortunately, this isn't the first time this has taken place. It goes on -- albeit in a far less dramatic fashion -- year after year.

The governor writes a budget she (or he) knows doesn't have a chance of being approved and then the House and Senate offer their versions of the budget. And they, too, know these aren't realistic. It's all part of the budget dance in which everyone goes too far in the hopes that when it comes to making compromises when the final budget is put together each side can get what they really want.

The problem with all this, and the $2.6 billion revenue shortfall -- the gap between the wish list and the money to fund it -- is that all those who will be impacted by the proposed cuts in the governor's budget have to pretend it is really going to happen and spend countless hours preparing for the doomsday scenario.

In addition, they (as well as professional lobbyists) are spending time and money twisting the arms of legislators to stave off cuts that aren't really going to occur.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn met with the U-B Editorial Board last week to talk about his legislative agenda. He talked about the importance of the Legislature providing levy equalization funds so small school districts such as College Place will have enough money to keep the doors open. His pitch was strong. But as he discussed the details it became clear he didn't believe levy equalization was going to go away.

We agree that the current fiscal situation is ugly. Still, the sky isn't falling.

The fact is the projected drop in revenue compared to the previous two-year budget cycle translates to about 3.3 percent less to spend. While that doesn't sound too bad, the reality is the cuts will certainly go deeper (or new revenue has to be put in place) because the cost of government -- driven mostly by salaries and entitlements -- continues to rise. Like it or not, serious decisions need to be made about the future of Washington.

Why then aren't we having serious discussions focused on what might really happen rather than talking about the impact of a budget built on political propaganda?


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