The state budget is a moral document. It is a statement of our values and priorities. Especially this year, it is no less than the vision of the future we want to create for our families and our communities.
It’s no secret that, due to the international financial meltdown, families and businesses are in the midst of the most far-reaching economic crisis of our lives.
Families all across the state are cutting back their personal spending as they try to make ends meet. Too many have lost houses and savings accounts as their debts outstrip their income. Job loss has mounted as businesses cut payroll to keep their doors open. Many businesses are going under or struggling to keep the doors open as sales decline and costs increase.
The effect of all this in Washington, as in 47 states across the country, is that revenues have plunged over the past two years, putting at risk our funding commitments to schools, colleges and universities, health care and disability services and public safety.
In responding to the recession-induced gap between revenue and expenditures, we at the state level have two unique challenges. First, we balance our budget annually and don’t run deficits, as is the practice at the federal level. Second, where businesses lose customers in tough economic times, demand for public services like public schools, health care, emergency assistance, job training and state financial aid increase, just when our ability to pay for them decreases.
Furthermore, our budget decisions not only directly affect the current needs of students, seniors, foster children, the unemployed and people with disabilities, but also shape our future. We must invest today if we expect to prevent child abuse and neglect, protect public safety, have accessibility and quality in our colleges and universities, provide for clean air and water and keep our public roads and infrastructure intact and adequate for future growth.
Our state’s two-year revenue shortfall is around $12 billion. Last year, we got $9 billion of the way there without raising taxes. That included eliminating waste, freezing salaries, making layoffs, tapping our Rainy Day Fund and making dramatic cuts to classrooms, to college enrollments and affordable tuition, to health care and hospital services, and to prisons. That leaves about a $3 billion problem this year.
This time, legislators will keep working to make government leaner, and we will make more cuts. But I believe we need to take a balanced approach to this year’s shortfall to prevent any further damage to families and communities. Moving forward, any responsible approach requires us to look both at how we spend revenues and how we bring them in.
Last year, more than 30 other states increased revenues as a response to the recession in order to keep the fabric of their communities strong and not fall backward in the areas most critical to their future. We did not.
This year, the governor has shown us what our state would look like if we pass another all-cuts budget. This budget is unthinkable. After all the cuts we made last year, the cuts we’d have to make this year to avoid raising revenue simply do not reflect the values that make Washington a great place to live, work and raise a family.
The Senate budget, which will be released in a few days, will call for closure of tax loopholes and raising revenues. Because our current state tax structure is unfair, we will propose providing relief for small businesses and we will not support increases in general sales taxes unless rebates are provided to low- and moderate-income families.
Now more than ever, we need our public systems to respond, to provide support and protection to those hardest hit by the recession and to pave the way for a robust recovery.
Legislators have been elected by the people to deal with tough situations like the nearly unprecedented crisis facing us today. Now is no time to dismantle the public structures families rely upon at precisely the moment they’re relied upon the most.
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