Passing laws that aren't funded is poor public policy

The result is unkept promises and frustration.

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Three years ago state lawmakers were prepared to write checks for expensive social programs with little regard as to whether there was money in the bank. After all, they reasoned to themselves, the money will be found somewhere. It always is, right?

Well, it turns out their reasoning was delusional. The state and nation were on the cusp of a deep economic recession. The money wasn't -- and still isn't -- there to fund paid parental leave or a sales tax rebate for low-income families.

One would think the harsh reality of this situation would have shaken lawmakers from their delusional haze. Yet, it hasn't.

Sen. Karen Keiser, the sponsor of the paid leave legislation, calls the delay "a sharp disappointment." She and other Democratic lawmakers believe that funding this law at some point is possible. Keiser and other advocates note that paid family leave laws are in effect in California and New Jersey.

Given California's economic troubles, that's not necessarily a great example.

Washington's governor, Democrat Chris Gregoire, seems to grasp that. Her view now seems to mirror ours.

"I don't deny at all the social benefits of paid family leave, I just don't think we can afford it," Gregoire said.

Exactly.

We had concerns about the state's paid parental leave plan from the start. Our warning light went on when the Legislature allowed $6 million from the state's general fund to be used for startup costs. That put an infrastructure in place for a program that didn't exist.

We, by the way, are in favor of parental leave for newborn children. And the federal government already has a law in place that mandates employees can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for (and bond with) a newborn or to care for someone with an illness.

Even if the law wasn't in place, it would make sense for employers to allow reasonable leave. But it's not the role of the government to impose strict mandates that cause hardships and hard feelings.

Originally state lawmakers were looking at imposing a tax on employees of 2 cents an hour, which employers would have to deduct from paychecks. That didn't prove to be wildly popular because the 2 cents an hour adds up to an average of about $40 per year per employee.

It didn't fly.

The law that would pay parents up to $250 a week for five weeks to stay home remains in limbo. And so is the measure to issue sales tax refunds or credits of up to $567 to those who qualify for the federal Earned Income Tax Credit.

"We're making promises to do things that we don't know how we're going to have the capability of meeting them," said Sen. Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield. "We have billions of dollars of issues to resolve that are higher priority than new programs."

The paid leave and tax rebate should never have been passed or signed into law without funding.

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