January 8, 2011 in Opinion

Editorial: Herculean cuts will curb state’s overreach


The Spokesman-Review Editorial Board

Members of The Spokesman-Review editorial board help to determine The Spokesman-Review's position on issues of interest to the Inland Northwest. Board members are:

The job awaiting the Washington Legislature when it convenes Monday in Olympia will be the biggest struggle under the Capitol dome since “The Twelve Labors of Hercules” adorned the House chamber three decades ago.

The lawmakers’ impending assignment is easy enough to put in words but will be excruciatingly difficult to solve: Not nearly enough revenue is coming in to pay for what state government expects to do.

That’s been a familiar theme in recent legislative sessions, but following November’s general election, there is no political will for generating more revenue. This time the equation will have to be balanced on the expectations side.

That much seems to be understood by both Republicans and Democrats in both the House and the Senate.

But what may be less certain in some members’ minds is a recognition that the reforms must be permanent, not just short-term austerity measures that can disappear once economic recovery revives the flow of tax receipts. The fact is, much of the difficulty now facing the state is not only from the recession but also from the compounding effect of government’s having presumed to do too much for too long.

It’s time for the Legislature to shrink government’s role and defer more decisions and responsibilities to the private sector, which is better suited to investment and job creation.

The federal government won’t be riding to the rescue. Congress has little appetite for further stimulus programs and, if anything, the new Republican majority in the House will want to pare responsibilities it believes are the states’ domain.

With no prospects of revenue increases, Gov. Chris Gregoire has offered the Legislature a budget blueprint for eliminating a $4.6 billion shortfall, but not even she likes it. And there’s bipartisan disapproval of social service cuts that impact Washington’s neediest residents.

But some cuts come in programs where Washington has gone well beyond what other states do – the state-labeled Disability Lifeline, for example, and comprehensive dental benefits. Washington also is burdened by an ongoing defined-benefit pension system, while most private-sector employers have converted to more fiscally responsible defined-contribution plans such as 401(k)s.

Had Washington stayed more in line with other states and businesses, the coming disruption could have been milder. The Legislature will make its own revisions in the next four months, but radical reductions are inescapable, and a sincere commitment to downsizing is imperative.

Enter Hercules.

For the second of his legendary feats, he slew the Lernean Hydra, a venomous serpent with at least nine heads – some said thousands because two would reappear each time Hercules lopped one off. With perseverance, Hercules prevailed.

Washington legislators could have no better model for trimming state government down to size.

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