Gov. Chris Gregoire had a tough call to make.
With a budget shortfall of more than $5 billion and counting, it has to be tempting to tap into a tax base of businesses that can only whimper as the ax falls. But staying true to her word to not raise taxes, Gregoire instead took the ax to her own budget.
This is something that the Rossi camp campaigned that she could not do: Gregoire would be too affectionate toward the needs of unions, education and social services to make serious cuts when they were needed. Now, with her proposed budget, about the only people who aren’t complaining are Republicans.
Under Gregoire’s plan, spending cuts totaling more than $3 billion during the next two-and-a-half years would be felt broadly across state government, including K-12 and higher education, social services, prisons, health programs and state parks. Gregoire has admitted that the budget almost certainly would lead to layoffs — perhaps 2,600 state workers in 2009-2011.
No one that receives state funding is happy about it, and state workers have already filed a lawsuit because of her plan to freeze wages. But the fact that everyone seems to be affected is proof that she did not play favorites and looked at cuts through a broad lens.
The budget now goes to the Legislature, which begins its legislative session Jan. 12. The House and Senate both will then have to wrestle with shortfalls and come up with their own budget proposals.
While few are happy with the governor’s budget, Gregoire should be applauded for making the tough — but right — decision. It’s downright entrepreneurial of her to tighten the state’s belt instead of bleeding money out of taxpayers who are already struggling to stay alive.
Businesses do not have the luxury of raising their rates when the going gets rough. If they tried that, their customers would simply go elsewhere and they would be out of business. The state government would do well to follow that line of thinking.
The quickest way to turn this recession around is to get businesses back on their feet: making products and hiring workers. If the state raises taxes on businesses during this difficult time, it will take even longer for the economy to recover. Once the economy starts to turn around, then services and pay raises can be reinstated.
Of course, the unfortunate truth is that the people who will suffer the most from budget cuts are not the union workers or the possible thousands that could get laid off: hurt the most are the underserved who need the services that the state provides. And those services are needed now more than ever.
But until the economy recovers, our social programs are going to have to hang tight and weather the storm with the rest of us.
— Vanessa Blackburn
by Rik Dalvit