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The real costs of a no-new-revenue state budget

Post by TNT Editorial Board / The News Tribune on Oct. 29, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
October 28, 2011 3:04 pm

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Enter a magical world where big problems simply disappear because there’s no money to fix them.

A glimpse of that make-believe world can be found in the state budget released Thursday by Gov. Chris Gregoire. Gregoire doesn’t believe in magic herself, but enough Washingtonians do that her budget had to play along.

Falling revenue forecasts have blown a $2 billion crater into the skeletal, hard times budget the Legislature approved in May. On Thursday, Gregoire announced a special late-November legislative session to fill the crater and offered her scenario – as legally required – for doing it without any additional tax money.

Even anti-tax absolutists might cringe a little at the human implications of a no-new-revenue budget.

In the real world, kids get beaten up, thrown out, sexually violated and otherwise brutalized by the adults who ought to be caring for them. When their grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc., are also incompetent or irresponsible, they need homes and help.

Gregoire’s plan offloads a lot of their anguish – where? to whom? – by spending less money on it. Funding for child welfare workers would drop by $8.2 million, support for affected children by $7.3 million, and payments to group homes and placement agencies by $13 million.

Good for budget. Bad for hurting, scared children, whose plight seems invisible to some Washingtonians.

The expense of running state universities and community colleges is an annoyance, too. Lawmakers have already solved much of it in the last few years by nuking their budgets; some schools have lost half of their state funding.

The no-new-revenue scenario would get to work on the rest of the nuisance by carving an additional $166 million out of higher education, plus $8 million out of work-study.

Fewer seats, less financial aid: Presto! The expense is shifted from the state books to struggling students and families. They may not be able to afford Central anymore, but they can always try Princeton, right?

Helping the working poor pay their doctor bills has been an expensive pain. No-tax solution: Stop helping them.

Gregoire’s scenario simply erases the entire Basic Health Program, throwing 35,000 Washingtonians off medical insurance but saving a cool $48.1 million. They’ll still get sick and wind up in emergency rooms, and hospitals will quietly shift the cost of their treatment to paying patients and everyone’s insurance premiums – but that’s not the state’s problem anymore. What matters is that there’s no new tax.

The cost of crime can also be made invisible; just shift it from the Department of Corrections and let it fade into abstract crime statistics. The no-tax budget would cut addiction treatment for felons, release many of them early and supervise them a lot less once they’re out.

Saves $50 million. Future crime victims can take comfort in knowing they’ve got a lean, mean state government.

If Washingtonians want to solve their budget problems with make-believe, so be it. We think things are bad enough that it’s finally time to look for new revenue. Taxes hurt. Magical thinking can hurt even more.

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