A couple of weeks ago I attended a town hall where a trio of eastside legislators warned darkly about the huge deficits facing state government right now. The current estimated shortfall: about $9 billion.
What they did not say is that the shortfall is actually the gap between what legislators now anticipate receiving from taxpayers in the next two years compared to what they wanted to spend on patching the deficit in the current budget and then pay for an even bigger upcoming budget.
Six years ago, the governor and Legislature put the government on a collision course with economic reality that made this financial crash inevitable. Well, not exactly inevitable. If the economy and real estate prices kept growing like they were three years ago, we’d be fine. Then again, so would Wa Mu and Lehman Bros. But I digress….
Gov. Chris Gregoire’s first budget alone raised state spending more than 17 percent. The budget she proposed a couple months ago, a little more than $33.5 billion, would have raised it an additional 12 percent – more than four times the inflation rate. How can our government raise spending that much during a recession and hope to pay for it? In six short years, the governor has proposed a 42 percent increase in government spending.
Keep in mind, I’m actually being kind to both the governor and Legislature. I’m counting only the general fund budget, and leaving out the so called “near general fund budget” that adds programs paid by targeted fees and taxes. That figure is already above $33 billion now, and the governor wanted to raise it to $37 billion.
The good news is that the state will actually receive a little more money in the next two years than it has in the previous two years (just less than $30 billion).
The further good news is that after six years of explosive (42 percent) growth, it should be relatively easy to see where cutbacks can be made. The bad news is that the elected officials who must make these cutbacks are the ones responsible for the spending growth in the first place, and they prefer addition to subtraction. They will make an impassioned case for raising taxes for a “balanced approach” to the budget crisis.
But even if the upcoming budget was no bigger than the current one, state spending would still have risen by 26 percent in six years. Why, exactly, is 26 percent growth over six years unreasonable? How many of you reading this make a quarter more than you did in 2003?