DON BRUNELL: No magic wand, only hard choices

In our state, the governor must submit a balanced budget to the Legislature.

In our state, the governor must submit a balanced budget to the Legislature. That means government spending must equal tax collections. Unlike Congress, we cannot borrow or print money.

Gov. Chris Gregoire has to rebalance the two-year budget passed by the Legislature last spring because revenue is $2.6 billion short of what lawmakers appropriated.

Even though the governor called last year’s budget “ugly,” this year’s plan will likely be even more unsightly. That has prompted the governor to announce she will also submit an alternative budget that includes both spending cuts and tax increases.

Last year, Steve Mullin, president of the Washington Roundtable, warned, “We think it’s become clear that the significant increase in state spending over the past four years is simply not sustainable. We will have a multibillion-dollar shortfall to deal with.”

And now it’s here.

Recognizing the heavy toll this deep recession has taken on businesses and families, the governor says she wants to avoid higher taxes that send our fragile economic recovery into a tailspin. She doesn’t want to throw more people out of work, add more costs onto struggling merchants or deter companies that would invest in new products, expand production or modernize facilities in Washington.

That is a daunting task! So how can the governor and the Legislature plug the revenue hole, keep people working and not kill the recovery?

First, there are no easy answers to raising taxes, hiking permit fees and adding more costs to businesses and families has a lasting and damaging impact – especially in a recession.

Second, enact policies encouraging the private sector to create jobs here.

For example, the sales tax exemption on manufacturing machinery and equipment has added $81.5 billion to state coffers in its first 10 years, generated more than $16.5 billion in income and created almost 285,000 jobs. State and local governments are expected to realize $2.1 billion in additional net tax revenues between 2007 and 2016.

Third, take additional steps to eliminate redundancies and make government more efficient. The governor is already making some inroads with her 21st Century Government Reform initiative, guided by an advisory group that includes representatives from the business community.

Her executive order signed this week eliminated 17 boards and commissions, and she’s drafting legislation to eliminate nearly 80 more.

Fourth, as difficult as it will be to rebalance the state budget in 2010, it will be even harder in the 2011 budget when $3 billion in federal stimulus money disappears. By then the budget gap could triple heading into the 2011-2013 budget cycle.

Fifth, the governor and lawmakers must lower costs to employers through reforming workers’ compensation, holding the line on higher unemployment benefits and resisting the temptation to soak employers with higher “fees” that are little more than backdoor tax hikes.

Finally, and probably most difficult, the governor and Legislature must look at compensation for state workers. Just as many private employers continue to agonize over cutting work hours, freezing wages and requiring people to pay a bigger share of their benefits; government must do the same just to survive and not further harm our shaky recovery.

Gov. Gregoire rightly points out that each statistic in the state budget represents a real person. Similarly, each tax and fee hike also takes money out of the pockets of a real person — the taxpayer – who is struggling to get by.

The decisions will be gut wrenching, but these are hard times. There is no magic wand, only hard choices.

Don Brunell is the president of the Association of Washington Business.

More in Opinion

Maybe it’s time Congress takes back its power

The Constitution gives Congress the most power of the three branches of government.

Poking dead things with sticks

They don’t mince words when they call it a “crawl space,” do they?

America is denying three hard truths

There are three major hard truths that our current government has been denying with great vigor: The Mueller Russia-U.S. Presidential election connection investigation, the war in Afghanistan, and the growing national deficit.

Promote the common good by ensuring individual liberty

Citizens following their passions and dreams improve the lot for all.

The three personas of President Trump

There’s Teleprompter Trump, Raw Meat Trump and Twitter Trump.

Carbon pricing won’t help environment, but will hurt taxpayers

How would a Washington carbon tax make a difference in the world “climate?”

Voting for the levy with make a major #impact for our schools

I have four children in Enumclaw public schools and they all benefit from programs that are supported by the renewal of the operational levy.

Great schools mean great communities

As former elected School Board Member, State Legislator and King County Judge, we understand the importance of educating all children.

Political soap opera won’t end until midterm elections

Democrats and Republicans in Congress, as well as President Trump, have all taken gambles that will shape the November midterms.

A small act of kindness can make a big impact | SoHaPP

Join SoHaPP’s book group this February to discuss “Wonder” by R.J. Palacio. Don’t have the book? Check it out at the Enumclaw Library or visit The Sequel.

Vote ‘yes’ on replacement Education Programs levy

As a high school senior that has spent the entirety of my school life in Enumclaw, I know we have to take it upon ourselves to ensure the efficiency and inclusiveness of our school system.

Concern for common good is buried by greed

Tell big lies long and loudly enough and people will believe you.