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Gregoire’s budget: Poor, 0; state payroll, 10

Post by Patrick O'Callahan on Dec. 9, 2009 at 7:59 pm with 3 Comments »
December 9, 2009 6:24 pm

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Gov. Chris Gregoire – and other Democratic leaders, no doubt – are hoping her neo-Dickensian spending plan for the remainder of the biennium will make the case for a tax increase of perhaps $700 million.

They’ve still got a lot of selling to do.

The governor is right about one thing: Her new budget proposal – which adjusts state spending for another $2.6 billion in lost revenue and increased obligations – would be intolerable as written.
When this state goes into recession, governors and lawmakers tend to hunt from savings in two broad areas: higher education and human services. Neither has constitutional protection, as does basic education. Nor do the poor and sick who depend on social welfare programs have much in the way of political clout.

As expected, the no-tax budget plan (which Gregoire has already repudiated) takes a savage machete to the state’s most vulnerable citizens.

It would completely eliminate state-subsidized health insurance for the working poor, kicking tens of thousands of families off the rolls of the Basic Health Plan.

It would entirely kill General Assistance Unemployable, a program that provides survival-level monthly checks and medical coverage to many disabled people who haven’t yet qualified for federal disability payments.

Gone, too, would be money for high-quality preschool for 1,500 3-year-olds from families of low income. The poor would lose programs that prevent abuse, offer treatment for addiction, subsidize dental care and prescriptions, and provide in-home care that keeps many out of nursing homes. State-funded hospice care – which eases the path to death – would be suspended.

Students of limited means would find it much harder to afford college, their state scholarships and other assistance cut dramatically.

But what’s missing from this budget – unavoidably so, insists Gregoire – is commensurate sacrifice in state government itself. Through the end of the biennium, she projects a 5 percent total reduction of the state work force. That stings, but it’s nothing like the pain many private workers and employers have suffered in this recession.

State employees won’t be getting cost-of-living raises, but they won’t be seeing pay cuts, either. As Gregoire points out, most of their compensation is protected by union contracts. She says she asked union leaders to consider concessions that might spare jobs, but got nowhere.

Necessarily, she says, she was forced to offer a plan that inflicts holy hell on the poor but leaves the public payroll largely intact.

This does not add up to a stirring case for more taxes in the middle of a recession. Carefully targeted increases might prove necessary in the end, but lawmakers should first look hard ­– very hard – for a plan that bleeds the public sector a little more and the people on the margins a lot less.

Leave a comment Comments → 3
  1. TheMASO says:

    As in D.C., the politicians in this Washington will be looking for new jobs in the near future!!!

  2. tree_guy says:

    “compensation is protected by union contracts” according to the governor.

    Then we should stop signing these contracts until the compensation protection language is removed. Compensation levels are dependent on many things that the state of Washington has no control over. A job may pay $50K a year but over time maybe we can only pay $40K. Happens all the time in private sector. If government workers don’t like the new terms they are free to work in the private sector.

  3. This is another example of why this State must get away from a budget reliant upon Taxes from sales. Yes folks, it’s time for an income tax in this State.
    Our tax system is regressive in that it relies on the spending habits of the middle and lower classes. For too long the poor have carried the load for the wealthy and it’s time for the upper classes in Washington to start paying their fair share.
    I’m talking 0 Sales tax. Zero, zip, zilch. Get rid of it completely and start taxing the income of Washington residents. The only tax free income will be that which is already tax-free. Disability income such as VA and L&I. Social Security Income and Benefits and any other income that is already exempt by law.
    Everything else is to be taxed at a flat rate, dollar for dollar and without exemptions or loopholes. That’s right, Paul Allen will actually pay more taxes than me for once.
    Now, THERE’S an idea!

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