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The Gristle

Small beer

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

SMALL BEER: Giving the incoming governor some cover, Governor Christine Gregoire proposed a more generous gambit to state revenues in her recommended budget for Jay Inslee’s administration than she ever recommended for her own administration. In her final budget proposal before leaving office, Gregoire last week proposed a creative mix of spending cuts, reform savings, fund shifts and revenue adjustments to balance the state’s nearly $1 billion 2013–15 budget shortfall.

The governor released her plan for making a $1 billion down payment toward meeting the court-mandated increase in basic education funding. She laid out capital and transportation proposals to meet critical infrastructure needs in communities across the state.

“My goal with this budget was to give our incoming governor and the Legislature a balanced and sustainable plan that addresses our fiscal problem and preserves services that are pivotal to our future prosperity,” Gregoire said.

Gregoire noted that a budget based only on spending cuts would force the closure of a number of state parks, eliminate food assistance programs for vulnerable citizens, and impose cuts on the order of $152 million on public schools and higher education. She also recommended continuing to suspend voter-approved salary increases for teachers.

“We have cut billions of dollars in spending and made major reforms since the start of the Great Recession,” Gregoire said. “A budget that relies only on existing revenue would not only jeopardize essential services—I’m convinced it would also hinder our economic recovery.”

“The governor’s budget is a stark example of how to fail at meeting Washington state’s needs,” commented Remy Trupin, executive director of the Washington State Budget & Policy Center. “If adopted, this budget would keep our state mired in a recession. It is clear that a budget without revenue is unsustainable and it is dangerous to our economy and our future.”

Perhaps it goes without saying, but spending cuts that inflict harm on large numbers of people and teeter the state economy are not addressing “waste” and “inefficiency.” They are scraping at the bottom of a bankrupt cask, threatening to tear out the bottom.

The easy cuts—the easy efficiencies, the recovery of meaningful public monies—were made long ago, budget analysts agree. Now the cuts themselves become inefficient. They no longer recover meaningful amounts of public monies. They no longer prioritize public policy. They just hurt.

New revenues are required but, in our dysfunctional adversarial political system, those revenues can only be acquired by equally inefficient means and in non-meaningful amounts—taxes on soda and chewing gum, while prosperous companies and individuals pay at (by far) the most regressive tax rates in the nation.

In her budget, the governor proposed $131 million in new revenue from the repeal of sales tax breaks on purchases of candy and gum, and eliminating a tax break on fuel used by oil refineries and lumber mills, with additional marginal consumption taxes on soda and beer. Sources of significant revenues remain unmentioned.

Jay Inslee declined to directly comment on Gregoire’s proposed budget, issuing instead a brief statement that thanked her administration and her commitment.

Inslee indicated his office would lay out his own budget priorities; however, we might predict they’ll be no more bold or transformative than Gregoire’s.

“Without revenue, policymakers will be faced with making new deep cuts to all other areas of state spending. If it comes to that, the scope of these cuts will be unlike anything we have seen and would result in a systematic dismantling of vital structures built up over the years that ensure the success of our kids and our state’s shared prosperity,” Remy said.

Gregoire had a brief window following the collapse of Republican fortunes in the wane of the Bush years, 2007-2009, in which to propose a substantial reworking of the state’s tax code, to reorganize the way the state spends through the tax code, to close down certain loopholes that were producing negligible benefit for the state, and to rethink the way the precarious over-reliance on sales tax. The last item, in particular, keenly fails to capture changes in the economy over the last 75 years. Since the tax was enacted in 1935, the role of goods versus services have swapped places in the state’s economic profile, and little of that change is captured through the tax code.

Modernizing the sales tax could immediately raise $1.2 billion in resources, according to the Budget & Policy Center.

Note that none of the rejiggering noted in the preceding paragraphs represents a tax increase, but increased efficiency in the manner we collect taxes and distribute the tax burden. For all the hair pulling and howling about inefficiency in state spending, virtually no time is invested in increasing efficiency of collection.

Alas, Gregoire did not do the work when she had opportunity, and that window has now closed for that critical work, with Republican ranks swelling in Olympia.

The predicament was worsened earlier this month when two Democrats in the state senate—Rodney Tom (Bellevue) and Tim Sheldon (Potlatch)—announced they would caucus with Senate Republicans, flipping the chamber’s 26-23 Democratic majority to a 25-24 Republican coalition majority. Senate Republicans last year used a procedural trick in the minority to drive the state budget at speed into a brick wall, so we might only imagine where they’ll steer the jalopy in majority. Nowhere sensible or equitable, we might certainly predict.

Roadmarker on the roadkill highway, Senate Republicans have promised another procedural trick to rewrite the senate rules from the floor when the new legislature convenes in January, making Tom the Senate Leader, his payoff for selling out the voters and caucus that elected him.

Ticket Cascadia
Past Columns
Much ADU about nothing

August 31, 2016

A Matter of Equity

August 24, 2016

A Lock on the Crypt

August 17, 2016

Zombie Terror

August 10, 2016

A Raucous Caucus

August 3, 2016

Lockup Lockstep

July 27, 2016

Polar Wastes

July 20, 2016

Chapter Two

July 13, 2016

Close the Schools!

June 22, 2016

Closing a Circle

June 8, 2016

Roads to Nowhere

May 25, 2016

Trails versus Jail

May 18, 2016

‘We Draw The Line’

May 11, 2016

Four, or Forever

May 4, 2016

Five Favor Five

April 27, 2016

Ag Gag

April 20, 2016

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Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Boating Center Open

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A gold medal standard

4:00pm

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First Thursday Art Walk

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Riverwalk Summer Concert Series

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Memory to Memoir

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Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead

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Andrew Subin Bellingham Farmer’s Market
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Skagit tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

A gold medal standard

4:00pm

Eat Local Month

4:00pm|Bellingham and Whatcom County

Fiesta 4 Cuba

8:00pm|Downtown Bellingham

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead

8:00pm|Cirque Lab

It takes an island

12:01am

Wild Things

9:30am|Whatcom Falls Park

Party in the park

10:03am

Final Plover Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Ferndale Farmers Market

1:00pm|Cherry Street

Hovander Homestead Bluegrass Festival

5:00pm|Hovander Homestead Park

Oak Harbor Music Festival

5:00pm|Oak Harbor

Beach and Barbecues

5:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

First Friday Dinner Theater

6:00pm|Community Food Co-op

Salmon Dinner Sail

6:00pm|Bellingham Cruise Terminal

Farm Tunes

6:00pm|BelleWood Acres

Anacortes Art Walk

6:00pm|Downtown Anacortes

Bellingham Art Walk

6:00pm|Downtown Bellingham

Friday Night Flicks

7:00pm|Van Zandt Community Hall

Recent Tragic Events

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

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