Our Voice: The clock keeps ticking for our legislators and state

June 19, 2013 

We have our own version of sequestration looming here in Washington.

It seems our lawmakers can't put their politics aside for the good of the order. They had an entire 105-day legislative session to approve an operating budget for our state and failed. Then a 30-day special session was called, but our elected officials still couldn't curb their partisan issues and pass a budget.

They are now in a second special session and time is running out. The time has come to get the job done. No more wiggle room exists.

If a two-year budget is not passed by June 30, the consequences will be dramatic. Our state government could shut down July 1.

State agencies are trying to determine which operations would have to be terminated, and the Office of Financial Management has issued a memo on contingency planning. Agencies were to submit a list of their services categorized by Monday so the state could develop a game plan.

While the memo states that OFM was sure the 2013-2015 budget would be passed before June 30, but it is clear that there is some concern that may not happen. The state has to sort out what activities could continue without appropriations from the budget at the start of the fiscal year July 1 and which could not.

Some functions would be unaffected because constitutional mandates or federal law require their continued operation. (Prisons, for example.)

The memo states: "While we consider it unlikely that these plans will need to be implemented, we believe it prudent to have a worst-case scenario strategy in place."

We agree.

Given the dismal performance of our lawmakers to date on the budget issue, if there was going to be a year when a budget did not receive approval by the deadline -- something that has never happened in Washington's history -- this might be it.

Just as we're hoping to hold our lawmakers to the task, an unexpected revenue forecast announced Tuesday for an additional $231 million in tax revenue than originally anticipated may just save the Legislature from having to do the difficult work once again. An increase in tax receipts that grand could mean the lawmakers don't have to keep arguing over tax breaks that Democrats would like to see end. Conversely, the Republicans wouldn't likely see some big reforms they had hoped to achieve.

The windfall could be a free pass to not solving the budget issue at all, but it could get a budget passed. While the news is fresh and its impact is yet to be seen, it's embarrassing that they are cutting it so close. And now government agencies that are already operating on thin staff numbers are spending precious time coming up with a plan in case of a shutdown. What they should be doing is planning for the next biennium with the appropriations given in the budget. But that's pretty hard to do without a budget.

Washington State University has already given up on one front, delaying plans to expand its offerings at the Everett campus. Without a real budget figure, WSU can't gamble on the expansion at this time.

The two sides are getting a little closer. As they should, given all the time they've had to dedicate to budget discussions. Their proposed budget totals are getting closer. But party-specific budget priorities are not. From closing tax loopholes to policy changes in education and workers compensation to spending on social services and education, Democrats and Republicans appear worlds apart still.

A budget with no new tax revenue is now even being discussed by Democrats, something that hardly seems beneficial to a state strapped for cash.

The clock is ticking and the pressure can cause bad decisions to be made. It's time for our leaders to lead, put their party politics aside and do what's best for the residents of Washington.

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