After news of the revenue forecast’s $1.4 billion drop in revenue for the 2011-13 budget and the now $1.3 billion budget hole confronting the state—assuming use of every last red cent of reserves—Gov. Christine Gregoire promptly issued a press release where she stated that waiting until the regular legislative session in January to address the problem is not an option:
“Including today’s revenue forecast, each of the past five forecasts has reduced our budget, and in each case we’ve responded quickly and appropriately with the tools at hand and with no tax increases. The November forecast may bring more bad news so we can’t wait until the start of session in January to take action. Today’s forecast demands that we again take action.”
The most important thing the governor and legislators can do is act quickly. However, in a Seattle Times article Gov. Gregoire went on to say she doesn’t want to bring the legislature back into town for at least another two months:
“The governor said she’d want to wait to hold a special session until after the next revenue forecast in November, should the numbers get worse.”
While some delay for the purpose of planning, preparing, and considering the various policy alternatives is inevitable, waiting two months to bring the legislature back to town is unacceptable. The cuts will have to be spread over a shorter period of time.
Fear of November’s forecast shouldn’t keep elected officials from acting. If anything, fear of additional revenue losses should initiate quick and decisive action.
Gregoire has already asked her agencies to prepare for cutbacks of 5 and 10 percent, and these proposals are due back from agencies next week on Thursday the 22nd. In addition, Gregoire has the ability to reopen union contracts with state workers during periods of significant revenue shortfall—just like the period we’re currently in.
Last year, during the one-day special session held in December, the legislature and governor were able to make significant progress whittling down the budget problem. They planned, showed up, and voted on an already agreed to menu of cuts in a process that was virtually free of the political rhetoric we’ve all come to expect. The Seattle Times even titled one of their articles, State Lawmakers Skip Drama, Cut Budget By Millions.
Washington needs its governor and legislators to show up like they did last December—skip the drama, identify essential state services, prioritize the policy alternatives available, and start bailing water out of Washington’s sinking fiscal ship.