By the Herald editorial staff
A new state revenue forecast is due today, and you don't need a crystal ball to know it will be bad news.
Gov. Chris Gregoire announced last week that the projected shortfall would be at least $2 billion, and no one will be surprised if today's update adds $500 million more.
Sen. Joe Zarelli, ranking minority member on the Senate Ways and Means Committee, has called for a special session in December to deal with the deficit.
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Gregoire rejected the proposal. We hope that doesn't signal a repeat of the last legislative session, when Republicans were shut out of the budget process.
The governor may be right about a special session. It would cost money to hold one, and the Legislature will convene in January in any case.
But Zarelli has a point. The longer it takes lawmakers to start saving money, the deeper the hole they'll need to fill. Even without a special session, a quick response is warranted.
One thing is certain -- there is no painless way to make up a $2.5 billion deficit, assuming that's the final figure the Legislature must address.
How big is the problem?
If lawmakers closed the University of Washington, Washington State University and all 34 community and technical colleges across the state, they'd still need to come up with another $100 million in savings to reach $2.5 billion.
Nothing that drastic is on the table, of course, but the state is running out of options. Federal mandates and constitutional obligations for public education and Medicaid put most of the state budget out of reach.
Less than a third of the state's $31 billion budget is even in play, according to the Office of Financial Management.
The problem would be daunting in any year, but the state has barely finished dealing with last session's $9 billion deficit.
Only a few months ago, the governor signed a budget that reduced state spending by $4 billion. Another $5 billion in cuts were avoided by using federal stimulus money and the state's rainy day fund to cover the rest of the shortfall.
Those one-time fixes are gone, and digging deeper for additional cuts means important programs may be eliminated. Something has got to give.
Unlike the previous session, the case for new taxes will get serious consideration when lawmakers return to Olympia in January.
Count on stakeholders in government programs and state employees to exert tremendous pressure on lawmakers to come up with the money needed to avoid additional cuts.
But additional tax burden -- whether it's on consumers, businesses or both -- risks prolonging the pain.
New taxes would pull money out of the economy that's needed to dig ourselves out of the recession.
State unemployment rates are still climbing. And many of those with jobs are suffering through unpaid furloughs, pay cuts, reduced hours and fewer benefits.
It's not a good time to ask for more from state taxpayers.
With so many in need because of the struggling economy, it's not a great time to cut services either.
Too bad we're heading into an election year. The political posturing that hinders the cooperation we need to solve the state's problems will only escalate as the session progresses.
No doubt, we'll see an increase in partisan rhetoric as soon as the new numbers are released today.
Olympia is never free of politics, but the parties can work together in a crisis. We're in one.
We need to have the grownups in charge this session.