State budget crisis calls for creative leadership

By the Herald editorial staff

There was something for everyone to hate in Gov. Chris Gregoire's State of the State address Tuesday.

Advocates for socialprograms lament the proposed cuts, while proponents of smaller government complain the reductions don't go far enough.

But at least the proposals Gregoire outlined for the 60-day legislative session that began this week give state lawmakers a starting point.

That already makes this plan better than the all-cuts budget the governor issued in December. Even by her own accounting, that document was divorced from reality.

The fact is, the spending package that Gregoire will sign at the end of the legislative process will include cuts and additional revenues.

That's not an endorsement, just a statement acknowledging the obvious. The Legislature will make significant changes to the governor's plan, but the final package won't rely solely on cuts.

Legislators are facing an estimated $2.6 billion shortfall in the 2009-11 supplemental budget, and even Republicans hate some of the cuts in Gregoire's initial plan for addressing the deficit.

Her revised proposal would "buy back" about $780 million in state programs that were axed in her December proposal.

Those include:

-- $165 million for levy equalization money for public schools.

-- $160.5 million for the Basic Health Plan that provides coverage to 65,000 low-income people.

-- $146.4 million for a college financial aid program that supports 12,300 students.

-- $84.5 million for a redesigned General Assistance-Unemployable program that gives grants to about 23,000 people who cannot work.

-- $42 million for all-day kindergarten, gifted student programs and Reading Corps.

-- $39.5 million for subsidized child care for families in the state's welfare program.

Gregoire was short on details about where the money will come from, but said she's banking on a combination of federal money, revenues from closing some tax loopholes and existing reserves.

No good alternatives exist.

Any new revenues will divert money that might otherwisebe used by businesses andconsumers to revive the economy.

And there's not enough fat in the state budget to make up a $2.6 billion shortfall without hurting some of the most vulnerable state residents. Important programs for Washington's schoolchildren, elderly, sick and disabled will be cut or eliminated under any realistic scenario.

Republicans were quick to attack Gregoire's plan.

"During her first four years, the governor spent taxpayer money like water, increasing the state budget to $32 billion," complained Sen. Jerome Delvin,R-Richland.

Social service advocates had their own objections.

Rebuilding Our Economic Future Coalition, representing more than 100 health care, education, environment, housing, and anti-poverty organizations, issued a call for more revenue beyond anything the governor is proposing.

"Now more than ever we need our public systems and structures to respond; to provide support and protection to those hardest hit by the economic downturn and to pave the way for a robust recovery," the coalition wrote.

Both responses sound likepolitics as usual. We needbetter than that, especially this year.

We need state workers who are willing to make sacrifices that are in line with what'shappening in the private sector.

We need Republicans to give the finger-pointing a rest.

We need Democrats toadmit they don't have all the answers.

We need citizens to understand government can't solve every problem.

We need leadership, not politics.