Our legislators in Olympia are facing two deficits in the special session to deal with the gap in the 2011-2013 state budget: the first is a $2 billion shortfall, and the second is a lack of courage to address it.

Already, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown has indicated the Legislature will spend next week piecing together a down payment of “several hundred million dollars” (reportedly about $400 million) of cuts, then adjourn until January. Although these are considered the “low hanging fruit”, the less contentious of the cuts needed, even this partial solution requires a lot of work behind closed doors. A title-only bill has been submitted, to be filled in by the Ways and Means Committee with the details of any agreement, followed by a quick discussion, vote and adjournment by the end of next week.

This has become standard practice in recent years, as legislators wait until the last moment to produce a narrowly balanced budget filled with half measures and temporary fixes, then exit Olympia quickly in the hope that no one notices. What is missing is the courage to openly and honestly address the state’s budget woes; to discuss in public the programs that need to be cut and why, to reform the programs that are routinely the source of overspending, and to rein in those programs that increase each year at an unsustainable rate.

While Gov. Christine Gregoire has challenged the Legislature to balance the budget by the end of the special session, her solution is just an example of more cowardice. She balances the budget by making unacceptable cuts to the most basic state services (a shorter school year and early release of prisoners, for example). Crying crocodile tears for the cuts she was “forced” to make, she then offers the voters a chance to buy back these cuts by voting to raise their taxes. If her scheme succeeds, it is the worse kind of crude political blackmail; if voters refuse to play (as is likely) and turn down the tax increase, she dooms the Legislature to yet another special session, another round of procrastination.

Now is the time for Washingtonians to call their representatives in Olympia and demand that they stop wasting time avoiding what must be done: produce a balanced State budget with real cuts and real reforms, one that is genuine and sustainable, and finally brings an end to the budget games.


[photo credit: twm1340]