An alphabet soup of unions and other organizations whose state funding would be decimated if the Legislature were to close its $6 billion budget hole only by cutting spending is doing preliminary work on the final element of the state budget solution: taxes.
See, even though it appears the Washington Legislature has been moving at something less than what Sen. Jim Hargrove called “ludicrous speed,” (invoking the term from the movie, Space Balls) they’re right on pace for a deliberative democratic-republic.
On Tuesday, President Obama signed the $789 billion economic stimulus plan and Washington lawmakers learned they will get maybe a bit less than $2 billion to apply toward their own state operating budget mess.
On Wednesday, Gov. Chris Gregoire signed a “micro supplemental belt-tightening budget” for the final six months of the 2007-09 biennium which cuts about $300 million in state spending, uses $340 million of federal money to replace state funds and grabs about $100 million of unguarded “leftovers” from other state accounts.
Although it appears puny, lawmakers actually may already have dealt with about $2 billion of their $6 billion problem, provided, of course, that they follow through with the same actions for all 24 months of the 2009-ll biennium.
On Thursday, we find out just how bad the situation is, whether the budget problem for the 30 months from Jan. 1, 2009 through June 30, 2011 really has grown to $8 billion, or more.
That means on Friday, the 40th day of this 105-day session, lawmakers can begin writing and rewriting their budgets in earnest.
Meanwhile, the shadow legislature of unions and other stakeholders is out their holding “focus groups” in communities. They’re trying to figure out how much a tax increase (just a temporary one, I’m sure) the public can stomach, which taxes they would vote to increase or which tax exemptions they would vote to remove, which wholesome programs the money should be spent on to make the taxes more palatable (pay raises for state workers probably won’t cut it, but warm, fuzzy stuff for school kids and colleges might) and, of course, how much money the tax increases should raise. $1 billion? $1.5 billion? $2 billion?
It’s a tough job, but somebody’s gotta do it. I’d tell you more, but most of the people involved are still either hiding in the shadows, refuse to talk to me or mumble a lot of indecipherable stuff when they answer me.
I did gleen that the first round of focus groups has been held out there in the suburbs and results should come back at the end of this week or next week. (I couldn’t make out the mumble.)
And then someone will pay for some polling to see how a broader group of people would respond to some specific suggestions. And finally, the alphabet soups will take their findings to Lisa Brown and Frank Chopp and every other Democratic lawmaker who will listen, plus a few Republicans.