It looks as if Washington state legislators will be home for Christmas – maybe even a week before Christmas.
It’s not because they’ve gotten as industrious as Santa’s elves. No, they’re headed in the opposite direction, by lopping the largest items off their lists and sending out IOUs.
They know they must balance the budget. They know they must first adopt an all-cuts budget before even asking voters for a possible half-cent sales tax. But that’s hard work that requires odious decisions. The prevailing attitude of leadership would appear to be: Why do today what we can put off until next month?
For one reason, it will only be harder next month because of the spending that will occur in the meantime.
Gov. Chris Gregoire seems resigned to this coming abdication. The dearth of activity in Olympia is a pretty good indicator. Not much happened on Friday. Not much is scheduled for Monday.
So, the new goal is a “down payment” on balancing the budget, which means paying a little bit now in exchange for extra payments later. This strategy scoops up the easiest cuts and places them in a bill. Eliminating vacant full-time positions, for example, and shifting fund balances around.
Seems like the kind of cuts the governor could’ve made without incurring the expense of 147 legislators trekking to Olympia to dawdle.
A bill to resolve the Wenatchee public facility crisis? Stuck in the Senate. A bill to support vital services at critical care hospitals? Probably postponed until January.
Gregoire has gamely sold this “activity” as important, noting that it could set the stage for the earliest passage of a supplemental budget in history. But that seems optimistic because the obstacles that exist now will remain in place when lawmakers return on Jan. 9 for their regular session.
Our leaders need to work on managing the budget, not expectations.
The sides are still distressingly far apart on reforms that are needed to put an end to this annual budgetary rescue mission. Those ideas, which include regulatory and pension reform, also hold the key to luring enough legislative support to place a half-cent sales tax on the ballot.
In short, no reforms, no new sales tax revenue.
The governor has a plan. Legislative leaders have acknowledged not having a better one. If they can’t come up with their own, they ought to act on hers. Posturing won’t get it done.
“Everybody has a slogan,” Gregoire says. “At some point we need to get past the rhetoric and get to work.”
Might as well be now, because sooner or later, they’re going to be playing Scrooge.
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