As the economy slowly picks up, tax revenue is on the rise in Washington state. As a result, the gap between projected revenue and anticipated spending has closed a little.
Still, the revenue shortfall is still over $1 billion, which lawmakers are looking to reduce by trimming a little here and a little there from various programs. And then - as his been the pattern in Olympia for years - the Legislature will sprinkle some magic pixy dust (wishful thinking that a gusher of cash will be coming in soon). For example, lawmakers are looking at declaring that $405 million in school expenses will be paid for with a check written in the next two-year budget cycle.
Budget crisis solved, right?
Sure, until next the budget crisis. Unfortunately, that's going to hit next year, if not sooner.
Budgeting from year to year with bubble gum and duct tape is ridiculous. The Legislature needs to face fiscal reality and make the deep cut necessary to have a sustainable budget.
Two proposals being pitched in Olympia have the potential to put Washington on the right path.
One plan, SJR 8222 (which would require a vote of the people as well as the Legislature for approval), calls for a four-year balanced budget amendment to the state constitution. Forcing lawmakers to budget for four years rather than two should bring reality into focus. It would make it far more difficult to use legislative gimmicks such as putting off funding programs now by "anticipating" they can be paid for with huge revenue growth in the future.
The other proposal, SHB 2607, would force the governor and lawmakers to take an even longer view of budgeting. It calls for the Office of Financial Management to publish a six-year budget outlook at the time the governor's budget is released. This will result in the Legislature having to consider the impact today's budget decisions will have in six years. No longer will it be easy to kick the can full of debt down the road.
Unfortunately, lawmakers - as evidenced by their continued use of the magic pixy dust - remain in denial that a budget built on optimistic/unrealistic projects is not sustainable.
Leadership is needed now.
Washington state can't continue to be whipsawed from one fiscal criris to the next.
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