Friday night was incredible! As the Legislature in Washington State was winding down its last few days of session, it looked like Republicans and Democrats were stalemated. The Democrats in majority in the House and Senate had finally released their budgets, but passing a responsible budget seemed out of reach. The special session late last year failed to fix the budget deficit, accomplishing little other than taking some easy, popular steps, the “low hanging fruit”. Despite a modest improvement in the latest estimate of spending and revenue, there was still a shortfall, which both Democratic budgets resolved by using a “25th month” scheme, delaying over $400 million in payments from the last month of the 2011-2013 budget to the first month of the next.
This budget gimmick might allow the Legislature to kick the can down the road, but if spending and revenues aren’t changed, the same deficit will be there next budget cycle, along with the extra $400+ million in expenses from this budget cycle. The proposed budgets were unsustainable and irresponsible, and although the House passed their version of the budget, the Senate could not find the 25 votes needed to approve theirs.
In a surprise move on Friday, Republicans in the Senate were joined by three moderate Democrats, giving them the 25 votes needed for a majority. They utilized a procedure called the “Ninth Order of Business” to bring the Governor’s budget to the floor and then to pass a striking amendment that substituted in a budget written by Republican Senator Joseph Zarelli. After over eight hours of contentious debate, legislative tactics and votes, this bi-partisan budget finally passed early Saturday morning.
Senator Zarelli’s budget is responsible, sustainable and it balances. Instead of budget gimmicks, it cuts expenditures through reforms and the hard decisions required to match spending with revenues. But the fight for a responsible budget has only begun. There is still a lot of work to be done in Olympia before a final budget bill gets to the Governor’s desk. We need you to contact your representative and tell them that you want Olympia to reduce spending, reform inefficient government programs, pass a sustainable budget and stop once and for all the endless cycle of a budget in crisis.
[feature photo credit: sean dreilinger]