Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Special Session? Hasn't Legislature Done Enough Damage?

Excerpted from the Yakima Herald-Republic Editorial

Lawmakers are in the process of spending more money than they did last year. That's not a misprint. It's thanks to an expected windfall of $500 million from the federal government and a laundry list of tax increases, from a possible sales tax boost to taxes on bottled water and cigarettes.

Instead of making systemic reforms to how this state is run and pays for its priorities, the Legislature, led by the Democratic majority, has stuck to spending models that have remained unaltered despite coming into this session with a $2.8 billion shortfall.

And guess what? If Congress fails to come forward with yet another bailout for states, and if the economy keeps slogging along in first gear, the state could face a $2 billion shortfall when lawmakers return to Olympia next year to craft another budget. We wonder how many more times lawmakers will slap a $1 tax on a pack of cigarettes to balance the budget.

The majority also seems intent on keeping state employees happy regardless of the economic realities. While private employment in Washington has dropped by 7.5 percent, the decrease in the total number of state workers, outside of higher education, amounted to just 0.7 percent, according to The Seattle Times.

And what happened to taking a tough stand on state employee contracts and asking them to share some of the pain? That never happened. State employees contribute only a 12 percent share of their health care premiums. By raising the level to 20 percent -- still below the national average in the private sector -- the state could have saved $50 million over the next two years.

Instead, we get lawmakers telling voters that after cutting education funding by siphoning off money for smaller classrooms, they will allow cash-strapped school districts to raise their levy lids and get more revenue through local property taxes.
That may look good on paper, but in reality it's a pipe dream. Rural districts like those in Central Washington can't ask property owners to pay more. The levy lids have peaked. Richer districts, though, have much lower rates and could benefit from the legislation.

The end result is that rich school districts will get richer and poorer districts will be left behind -- as they too often seem to be.
Don't expect lawmakers to suddenly mend their ways during this special session. Taxes will rise, spending will increase and the next budget shortfall will be set in motion.

May the gavel finally drop on the Legislature and end this tortured process. We can't afford lawmakers to be in session one minute longer.

No comments: