October 20, 2011 in Opinion

Editorial: Voting rule, reserve fund both wise proposals

 

The Spokesman-Review Editorial Board

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Washington state voters face two proposed constitutional amendments on the November ballot.

The first is Senate Joint Resolution 8205, which would resolve a conflict in the state’s constitution when it comes to how long a person needs to reside in the state before being eligible to vote. Currently, it’s 30 days minimum for most elections, but 60 days for presidential contests, thanks to a 1966 constitutional amendment that has been ignored. The change would make it 30 days for all elections. All other eligibility rules would remain the same.

Voters should adopt the change for the sake of consistency.

The second proposed amendment is Senate Joint Resolution 8206, which would build on a 2007 requirement that the Legislature set aside 1 percent in the state’s piggy bank. The 2007 amendment was easily adopted by voters, grabbing 68 percent of the vote.

This year, a bipartisan effort to add to the state’s emergency reserves sailed through the state Legislature. It would mandate that three-quarters of “extraordinary” revenue be banked, rather than spent. The amendment defines “extraordinary” as an amount that exceeds 133 percent of average revenue growth for the previous five bienniums.

Larger reserves would enforce budget discipline on lawmakers who might be eager to resume the profligacy when the boom times return. The justifiable concern is that pent-up demand will unleash government spending that cannot be sustained when the next economic downturn occurs.

So the Legislature is asking voters to approve a constitutional limit on how much money would be available for spending in inordinately high revenue years. State Treasurer Jim McIntire supports the change because it would limit the volatility in budgeting and help set the state on a sustainable budget path.

As noted in an analysis by the Washington Policy Center, the financial ratings agency Standard & Poor’s looks favorably on the state’s constitutionally mandated “rainy day” fund and the prospect that this amendment would strengthen that tool of stability.

The past couple of bienniums have featured painful cutting, which is probably why Republican and Democratic budget writers are backing this change. It would’ve been nice to have larger reserves to draw upon. Plus, the spending that occurred in lieu of building reserves has made balancing the budget more difficult.

Voters should adopt SJR 8206 to help prevent legislators from digging such deep holes in the first place.

To respond to this editorial online, go to www.spokesman.com and click on Opinion under the Topics menu.


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