Inside Opinion

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Tag: state budget

April
13th

User fee increases are painful but necessary

This editorial will appear in Thursday’s print edition.

Because a two-thirds vote of legislators is needed to raise taxes but only a simple majority to raise user fees, guess which is more likely to happen this session?

With a state budget deficit of more than $5 billion, a combination of cuts and user fee increases throughout state government is inevitable. Those protesting increases in fees should point to the deeper cuts in services they would prefer.

Legislators do need to take care in what they term a “fee,” otherwise it could face legal challenge. A bona fide fee should – in general, at least – pay for the service it’s attached to. For instance, proposed increases for forest practice permits should go toward the state Department of Natural Resources’ administration of the state’s timber lands.

Fee increases that could be controversial – and thus warrant close scrutiny by lawmakers – are largely in transportation. Legislative Democrats are proposing to raise fees on driver’s license renewals by 60 percent, to more than double the fees paid when a car changes ownership and to put a new $20 fee on a driver’s first Washington license plates. Read more »

April
9th

‘Loophole’ repeal: An imaginary budget solution

This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.

The ferocious campaign against tax “loopholes” is one of the more perplexing phenomena of this legislative session.

Thousands of union members converged on Olympia on Friday, protesting looming budget cuts and demanding that lawmakers avert them by repealing the absurd giveaways that supposedly riddle Washington’s tax code. Seventeen demonstrators got arrested trying to break into the governor’s office the day before.

The demonstrations were the culmination of months of muttering about the sweet deals the state is giving to corporations and the wealthy during the worst economy in 70 years.
The war on tax breaks might make some sense if – for starters – there were any conceivable way the 2011 Legislature could repeal enough exemptions to spare education and the social safety net from serious damage.

That happens to be impossible. When the Legislature repeals an exemption, it raises taxes. In November, the voters overwhelmingly approved Initiative 1053, which requires the Legislature to approve tax increases by two-thirds majority.

Republicans are adamantly opposed to tax increases, including most proposed repeals of tax exemptions. There’s no way the Democrats could achieve that two-thirds supermajority by themselves.

Read more »

March
31st

Let lawmakers – not judges – write the budget

This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.

Lawmakers will have a hard enough time carving $5 billion out of state spending this year without the courts second-guessing what they can cut and what they can’t.

One federal judge, Marsha Pechman, has countermanded the Legislature’s decision to stop funding the Food Assistance Program for Legal Immigrants. Lawmakers had expected to save $60 million over the next biennium by ending the program, which helps pay the grocery bills of some needy immigrants who aren’t eligible for food stamps.

Responding to a class action lawsuit on behalf of those immigrants, Pechman decided that the Legislature was probably violating the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution. The theory: Because the state helps fund aid for immigrants who are eligible for the federal program, it must do the same for immigrants who aren’t. State attorneys have appealed to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

This is a No Good Deed Goes Unpunished ruling. Expanding the assistance to non-eligible immigrants was purely discretionary on the part of the state, and no federal money was involved. It now turns out – if Pechman’s logic is upheld – that lawmakers can choose to extend help but can’t choose to withdraw it when they run out of revenues. Read more »

March
19th

Another revenue forecast, another reality check

Employment rebounded much more quickly during the 1981-82 recession than it’s doing today. (Washington State Economic and Revenue Forecast Council chart)

This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.

One graph sums up the grim economic predicament lawmakers face as they struggle to write a new state budget.

Released Thursday – along with yet another forecast of falling revenue – the chart tracks current job losses against the 1982-1982 recession.

Back then, the state had seen slightly more than 50,000 jobs evaporate by the time it hit bottom, but they’d all come back about 27 months into the downturn.

This downturn makes that one look like the good old days. The economic slide that began at the end of 2007 kept sliding for more than two years – and slaughtered 200,000 jobs along the way. We remain down 179,000 jobs down more than three years in. The trajectory looks like a submarine that made a crash dive and is still scraping along the ocean floor.

The message: Get used to it. It’ll be a long time before we see the sun again.
Read more »

Dec.
18th

In store for state: Pain, pain and more pain

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Gov. Chris Gregoire had to perform an agonizing arithmetic to come up with a budget for the next biennium.

After the recession and the voters knocked a $4.6 billion breach between revenues and existing services, there was no way to balance the budget without hurting hundreds of thousands of people.

Cut health insurance for the poor, and people will die. Cut crucial education programs, and some children will forfeit their futures. Cut prison funding too far, and predators will go free. Cut food programs, and kids will go to bed hungry.

Cruel

Read more »

Dec.
16th

Presidential primary: One cut that won’t hurt

This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.

Many of Gov. Chris Gregoire’s proposed state budget cuts will inflict real pain and hardship on Washington citizens, including its most vulnerable – low-income children and the elderly.

But the recommendation to save $10 million by suspending the state’s presidential primary in 2012 isn’t one that will hurt very much, if at all.

The primary is largely ceremonial in nature, with state Democrats ignoring its results and using lightly attended caucus meetings to pick their delegates to the national nominating convention. State Republicans use the results to select half of their delegates.

This state’s primary hasn’t always been successful in drawing the candidates here on the campaign trail. For instance, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton fiercely battled for the 2008 Democratic nomination, yet neither visited Washington.
And it’s not as if this would be the first time the primary was suspended to save money; it happened previously in 2004 when the estimated cost was $6 million.
Read more »

Dec.
16th

The governor: ‘I have a demoralized work force’

Gov. Chris Gregoire visited with the editorial board today. She wanted to talk about her proposed budget that addresses a $4.6 billion shortfall. In addition to consolidating several state agencies, it makes drastic cuts in education, low-income health care, social services, public safety and state workers’ compensation. In Pierce County, she would shutter the McNeil Island prison and the Washington History Museum. Funding for state parks, the arts commission – gone.

“It’s not a budget I’m proud of. But it’s what the times call for,” she said, noting that it eliminates 80 programs and agencies. She expects legislators will come

Read more »

Dec.
9th

Belated damage control on a faltering budget

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

The silence you’ve been hearing for months is the response of the Legislature’s Democrats to Washington’s fiscal emergency.

Now, on Gov. Chris Gregoire’s orders, they are finally about to act. After putting the job off since August, Democrats will join Republicans on Saturday in a special session to squeeze state programs by roughly $1 billion before the current biennium ends on June 30.

The urgency of convening the Legislature for damage control is a matter of simple arithmetic. Revenue shortfalls and the voters’ repeal of new taxes demolished the spending plan lawmakers jury-rigged last April to tide state government through next June. The gulf between that plan and the revenues needed to cover it has been broadening dangerously since summer.

Had the Legislature acted in August, the impact of the shortfall could have been spread over 10 months. Now the $1 billion of pain will have to be shoehorned into six months.

Better late than later. Dawdling until the full-blown haggling of the regular session begins in January might end in a nuclear strike on programs that serve some of the neediest Washingtonians.

The result would have been unconscionable and needless damage to the social safety net, higher education and other unprotected categories of state spending. The damage will be bad enough as it is.
Read more »