This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.
The Legislature has yet to pass a spending cut, making a huge budget problem worse by the day.
Another day, another $63 million in the hole.
Tuesday’s revenue collection report continued the downward trend that’s bedeviled Washington tax coffers for months now.
The deepening recession is undermining the assumptions state economists made in forecasting a $5 billion shortfall last November.
Over the last three months, tax collections have missed even those pessimistic marks, to the tune of nearly $200 million. Economists are expected to deliver a new bottom line next week.
A little panic would be a healthy thing at this point, yet it seems to be missing from the mix in Olympia. The Legislature has yet to pass a single spending cut, to the frustration of a governor who had advised quick action.
Each day that lawmakers delay represents a missed opportunity to make immediate cuts that will shrink the carry-forward cost of government – and therefore the crater that awaits Washington in the two-year budget that begins in July.
Legislative leaders say that acting before the state has a complete picture of just how big the budget hole is and how much help it will get from the feds would be irresponsible. They worry about giving people whiplash, yanking programs and services one month and reinstating them the next.
If only the outlook were so hopeful. The sad reality is that no one is riding to the rescue of state government. No one can count on the economy to perk up anytime soon, and federal help isn’t materializing to the degree lawmakers might have hoped.
Gov. Chris Gregoire built her no-new-taxes budget on the assumption that the state would get roughly $1 billion in federal aid. It’s now looking as if Washington will get twice that – and that the money will get quickly swallowed by the also-growing chasm between state expenses and revenues.
There are two possible explanations for why lawmakers are being slow to act: They’re in denial about the size of the problem, or they are waiting for the situation to get so desperate that tax increases will become an easier sell.
Either way, the delay only heightens the pain – in the form of cuts or tax increases – they will have to inflict later on.