We hate to be the ones to point out the cloud around a silver lining, but the state's recent windfall comes with some drawbacks.
The latest state forecasts for revenues and caseloads reduced the Legislature's budget problem by almost $400 million.
The lion's share -- $330 million -- represents savings from a decrease in the demand for services, most of it through a drop in projections for public school enrollment.
Shrinking the state's financial problem sounds like a good thing, and it is. But the boon also threatens to derail efforts to bring meaningful reform to state government.
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That's not idle speculation. House Democrats released their budget last week, and they seem happy to use the windfall as an excuse to avoid the tough decisions that would begin to address the root of the state's financial troubles.
The problem is easy to grasp -- we have more government than we can afford.
The solution is hard. It requires raising revenues, cutting services or some combination of both. Any step toward a more sustainable state government would hurt some constituency. No wonder politicians want to avoid it.
But continuing to ignore reality is irresponsible. House Democrats may feel like they're dodging a bullet by delaying any meaningful reforms this session.
But the smoke and mirrors in their plan only create the illusion of a balanced budget. Worse, the proposal ensures that Olympia will have an even bigger problem down the road.
The most egregious trick would delay $450 million in payments owed to public schools until the next budget period. In other words, the plan would solve almost half of the state's $1 billion shortfall by post-dating a lot of checks.
You don't need an accounting degree to understand that sort of sleight of hand doesn't do anything but buy a little time.
House Democrats ought to understand that -- they've used similar gimmicks before and are facing the ramifications now.
There are some good ideas on the table, and some of them may survive with the Senate's support. The upper chamber benefits from a more bipartisan approach.
House Republicans produced their version of a budget, but that amounts to either showboating or an exercise in futility.
No one expects House Democrats, who enjoy a comfortable 56-42 majority, to pay the slightest attention.
The Senate is more balance with 27 Democrats to 22 Republicans. More importantly, a bloc of moderate Democrats is willing to side with their GOP counterparts to push for meaningful reforms.
Eliminating expensive programs approved by voter initiatives but never funded would be a good start.
Reducing class sizes in public schools and providing additional training for home care workers are fine ideas, but voters didn't specify how they plan to pay for them.
The Legislature needs to be the grownup and tell state voters that they can't have what they aren't willing to pay for.
Instead, the status quo creates a perpetual phony crisis by starting each biennium with programs that will never be funded.
Other reforms that would reduce the cost of state pensions and health care also survive in the Senate. So there's hope of at least starting to make necessary changes if the Senate can push the House toward a more tenable plan.
The alternative is to begin next year with even bigger problems.