Balanced budgets mandatory in state

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The focus on the national debt and Congress’ penchant for spending far more money than it collects in taxes — year after year — has caused some folks to conclude all government operates this way.

That’s not the case in Washington state. The state Legislature is required to approve a balanced budget every two years. And if the budget drifts out of balance during that period, lawmakers must reconvene to adjust the budget — make spending cuts or increase taxes — so it is balanced.

The same goes for local governments in this state. The budget approved must balance.

But in the months leading up to the approval of the budget, the fiscal situation for local governments across Washington has been ugly. Walla Walla County is no exception.

The Walla Walla City Council has had to make some tough choices to balance the revenue with spending for the city. It’s eliminating some jobs, cutting some services and raising the property tax slightly.

The Board of Walla Walla County Commissioners is still sifting through the budget rubble. The county still has about $1.1 million more in budget requests than it can fund. That means the commissioners are working with the other countywide elected officials and department heads for ways to cut about 7 percent of the requests.

Unfortunately, it’s tougher to find places to trim since this is the fourth year in a row the national economy has been in a recession. The three commissioners are more focused on trimming than adding expenses.

“We as a board will have to take a much harder look at budget (increase) amendments,” Commissioner Perry Dozier said.

Commissioners Jim Johnson and Greg Tompkins used a recent hearing to make it clear to the public that it is against state law to approve a budget that does not balance.

At some point before the end of the year, commissioners will approve a budget for the various departments and the managers of those departments (elected officials and appointed department heads) will have to run their departments with the money allocated.

“We are mandated to provide services and we’re mandated to balance the budget,” Tompkins said.

Yes, this it extremely difficult but it can be done. It is done — year after year by elected officials throughout Washington state.

The federal government should have a similar mandate. That can’t be done now without destroying the country economically, but it can be done if Congress succeeds in reducing the $16 trillion national debt over time.

Meanwhile, Washington state is wise to have such stringent — albeit painful — budget safeguards in place.

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