Compromise budget, as expected, is not perfect

Gov. Gregoire should not hesitate to call lawmakers back to Olympia if there is a significant change in revenue or spending projections.


The holes in the current state budget have been patched. The Legislature's work is done -- for now. It won't be known for several months whether the budget approved Tuesday after lengthy bipartisan negotiations is sustainable.

But what is certain is neither Republicans nor Democrats are thrilled with the final product, which essentially plugged a $1 billion hole. The document relies heavily on an accounting maneuver, valued at $238 million, in which the state would temporarily claim control of local sales taxes before they are sent to local governments.

Some social safety net programs that were at risk of being cut were preserved. Needed reforms to pension programs were made.

Lawmakers wisely didn't make cuts to K-12 or higher education, which had previously taken big hits. Some social programs that had been on the chopping block survived, others were trimmed.

The budget increases taxes, raising $14.5 million by eliminating a tax deduction for some large banks. It also brings in some $12 million by changing rules on roll-your-own cigarettes, The Associated Press reported.

Both houses of the Legislature are controlled by Democrats, but many Republicans voted in favor of the spending plan. It was approved 44-2 in the Senate and 64-34 in the more liberal House.

"The supplemental budget passed preserves critical programs, including education, and sets our state on a more sustainable path," Gov. Chris Gregoire said. "Reaching this point wasn't easy."

While being on a "more sustainable path" would seem to be an improvement over recent budgets, this does not necessarily mean it will be sustainable. The balance of this budget could easily be tipped by even a modest downturn in projected revenue or a bump in anticipated costs.

Given that legislative leaders and the budget committees have been pushing and pulling at the $1 billion problem -- and each other -- since January, it was expected the final document would be less-than perfect.

Sen. Joe Zarelli, the top Republican on budget issues, said the budget was "accomplished in a bipartisan way, sometimes tugging and pulling but, nonetheless, in a bipartisan way. ... It's been a pretty significant experience and we're better for it."

We like that lawmakers, at the insistence of the governor, left $320 million in reserves. This will reduce the chance another special session will be needed to plug holes before lawmakers gather again next January.

But if there is a significant change in revenue or spending projections before January, Gregoire should not hesitate to call lawmakers back into session to reduce spending if necessary.

The compromise budget was a major political accomplishment, but it nevertheless must be watched closely.


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