Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Monday, March 21, 2005

State budget needs more new revenue

Governor Christine Gregoire has gotten off to a good start with the proposed state budget for the next biennium.

Unfortunately, more work remains to be done.

The budget simply doesn't contain enough new revenue. The higher cigarette tax and the restoration of part of the estate tax are a good start. But why stop there? We cannot continue to rely on stopgap measures and bookkeeping tricks to keep our state afloat. As Chris McGann noted in his article in the P-I this morning, many legislators think there should be more new revenue in the budget:
Budget writers in the House and Senate said Gregoire hadn't gone far enough and left the onus of raising general taxes on them.

Senate Ways and Means Chairwoman Margarita Prentice, D-Renton, said Gregoire's budget is a good start but it's too conservative.

"I expected something more than this," Prentice said. "I saw (Gregoire's proposal) and thought, 'well gosh, she stuck her toe in the water but didn't go swimming.' "
Granted, Gregoire is trying to deflect some criticism from Republicans who are still bitter about the gubernatorial race. But unless the economy improves significantly, the state will continue to face these budget crises biennium after biennium. This budget is a "here and now" thing. It's a short term solution that doesn't deal with a long term problem.

The bottom line is that the state just needs more new revenue to keep going.

Healthcare costs are going up, more people are moving into Washington State, and inflation continues to creep up. We cannot afford to "live within our means". That is not good public policy.

It costs money to operate the state of Washington, and unless we severely cut back on the amount of services the state provides, we are going to need new revenue.

It costs money for the state to provide all of the public services it provides. Were we to cut back on those services, the quality of life in Washington would suffer dramatically.

That doesn't seem to bother a lot of well-off Republicans, who would love to see public employee unions diminish and a lot of state programs go away. That may be their view, but we can't let their views ruin the health of the state of Washington.

We must preserve, protect, and strengthen our state's public services. And we must adopt real tax reforms that will solve our long term deficit problems.

A state income tax is a very real and viable replacement to the sales tax and the business and occupation (B&O) tax. Many people don't want an income tax because they'd rather stick with the beast they know.

Unfortunately, that's not good thinking. Ditching our regressive tax structure will bring many benefits, and we can't be afraid of change. With a progressive income tax, we can then adopt a more progressive property tax that is fairer to lower and middle income homeowners.

The P-I editorial board has this to say about Governor Christine Gregoire's budget:
Like the series of budgets before it, this one is not sustainable. That is, with the exception of ginning up new revenue to support I-728's expanding demands, it does nothing to cure the fundamental inequity between the ongoing growth in state spending and the anticipated growth in revenue to pay for that spending.

Gregoire's budget is shored up with the all-too-familiar budget transfers and other bookkeeping gimmicks. While perfectly legal, these maneuvers simply delay, rather than resolve, the structural deficit the state will continue to face. Gregoire's plan would also leave the state's reserves at a perilously low $200 million.

That said, the governor is hardly oblivious to the structural issues. She has promised to follow the legislative session with intensive examination of ways to corral the growth in health care costs and to find a dedicated education revenue source.
Those are good points. Now, it's time for the Legislature to have a meaningful discussion about the state budget and figure out what the final plan is going to be.

And hopefully, the final plan will include more new revenue that the Governor's current proposal does.

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