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Stalemate creates bigger state budget hole

Post by Kim Bradford on March 29, 2010 at 7:15 pm |
March 29, 2010 7:49 pm

This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.

The governor is disgusted, and she’s not alone.

The legislative special session that was supposed to last seven days greets its 16th dawn today with little to show for the extra time.

Sightings of House Speaker Frank Chopp crossing the Capitol building to speak to Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown about a budget deal are what pass for news these days. As the House and Senate remain locked in a battle of wills over a tax package, most lawmakers have been sent home to await word of a compromise.

Legislative leaders beg for understanding, noting that this is the largest budget hole they’ve ever sought to sew up in a short 60-day session.

But the size of the shortfall hasn’t changed significantly since November. The gap was $2.6 billion late last year when Gov. Chris Gregoire released her all-cuts budget proposal; it has since inched up to $2.8 billion.

Lawmakers ran out the regular session’s clock after waiting far too long to get down to negotiating a state spending and taxing plan.
Now without the rhythm of the regular session to structure their days, they are adrift. If it weren’t for passage of federal health care reform, state legislators wouldn’t have much to occupy their time.

Gregoire has grown increasingly frustrated. “Nothing is going on that I can tell,” she told the Capitol press corps on Friday. “No matter how many offers I’ve given for compromise, they have not resulted in a compromise. Time’s up. Time was up, in my opinion, last Sunday.”
The governor, however, doesn’t get a pass. She opposes a sales tax increase, yet has refused to threaten a veto over it.

The sales tax remains a sticking point between the House and Senate. Brown is making noises that the Senate might cave – if another acceptable tax can be found.

Every day the Legislature remains in session without a new state budget, the size of the problem grows.

The special session itself costs money – the bill is approaching $200,000 – but that’s chump change compared to what the state is forgoing in possible savings and tax collections. The Legislature has sacrificed millions of dollars by not acting more decisively to lower the cost of government and establish new tax rates.

Delay shortens the window of opportunity to save $2.8 billion, making the potential solutions more, not less, painful. Lawmakers have had plenty of time to get it right; now they just need to get it done.

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