Gregoire has no choice but to cut budget

The 6 percent across-the-board cut is not the best option, but given the Legislature's inability to reach a consensus, it has to be done.

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Gov. Chris Gregoire is moving forward with across-the-board cuts as state revenue projections are as bleak as anticipated.

The state revenue forecast released on Thursday projects an additional $1.4 billion drop in tax collections between now and June 2013.

As a result, The Seattle Times reported, the governor's office is expected to order roughly 6 percent cuts by state agencies during the current fiscal year that ends next June. The cuts will take effect beginning Oct. 1.

"It's going to be ugly," said Marty Brown, the governor's budget director.

That could be an understatement. These are actual cuts in spending, meaning jobs will be lost and services terminated. These cuts are far more painful than the customary cuts made in Olympia in which wish lists of spending requests are trimmed. The real cuts are here because state officials have seen the revenue forecast decline month after month as the Great Recession drags on.

"Obviously the biggest cuts will be in social services because we exempt basic education, we exempt pensions, we exempt debt service so well over half will be in (Department of Social and Health Services) or DSHS-related programs. Corrections will probably be the next biggest area. We're working with agencies right now," Brown said.

An across-the-board cut, particularly when it is not really across the board but limited to only parts of the budget, is a terrible approach. The decision on what is funded should be based on what is most important. That's done by setting priorities.

Sen. Joe Zarelli, the ranking Republican on the Senate Way & Means Committee, has been beating that drum for months.

"What sense does it make to cut services for our most vulnerable citizens by the same percentage as the state's efforts to promote tourism? That's the trouble with across-the-board cuts," Zarelli said. "It would be better for the Legislature to convene for a short special session, because we can do things the governor can't. We can make policy and structural changes that would focus the available revenue on the most essential services."

But it is the Democrats who control the Legislature. And, unfortunately, the Democratic leaders have shown themselves incapable of reaching a consensus on spending priorities in a timely manner.

Given that, Gregoire -- a Democrat -- has no choice but to order the 6 percent cut. The quicker spending is reduced the easier it will be for government to live within its means.

Perhaps Gregoire's order to cut spending will be a reality check for legislative leaders. Maybe it will force them to reach a consensus on spending priorities and make the cuts that need to be made.

For now, as awful as it is, the across-the-board cuts is the best option. Gregoire is doing what has to be done.

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