If ever there was a need for action by the state Legislature, that time is now.
Not in January.
The state is underwater as truly as any family that bought more house than they needed with money they didn't have in hopes some magic would occur.
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For the state and those home buyers, there's nothing magic about today's economy.
That's why we agree with Sen. Joseph Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, that the Legislature needs a special session.
Zarelli is the Republican leader on the Senate Ways and Means Committee, and news organizations throughout the state are familiar with his "budget tidbits" that scour through government spending plans like an auger through cheese.
Zarelli is known for advocating responsible actions aimed at bringing fiscal stability to Olympia.
The state Economic and Revenue Forecast Council just projected another $385 million drop in revenue for state operations between now and June 30, and $809 million less for the 2011-13 biennium.
That turns the estimated $4.5 billion deficit created by the September revenue forecast into a projected $5.7 billion shortfall.
"This was a much larger drop than was expected, and a sign that the pace of our economic recovery will be slower than was hoped," Zarelli said.
"If it wasn't clear before today that the Legislature needs to respond quickly with a short special session to get going on spending reductions, it ought to be now. If anyone is still opposed to the idea of a special session, tell me: How much deeper does the budget hole have to get?
"The governor has said she's open to calling a special session if the legislative leadership comes to her with an agreement. But she has the authority to order the Legislature to meet, agreement or not. We're all going to be at the Capitol week after next for presession committee meetings, and if the governor was to go ahead and call a special session for sometime that week she will have done her part. It would then fall to the legislative leadership to make that time productive."
We agree with Zarelli.
Our financial situation is dire.
Cuts made today -- where legally possible -- would be only a beginning to the reductions that must be made.
But action today would jump-start the process.
Finding more money is going to be close to impossible.
Voters rejected -- wisely, we think -- the proposal to enact an income tax for the wealthy in Washington.
The voters removed -- again, we think wisely -- the sales tax on certain grocery store items.
The voters imposed -- this one we thought was a mistake -- the need for a two-thirds majority vote of the Legislature to raise taxes.
Legislators and the administration face the necessity of renegotiating labor contracts where they can, and shutting down some programs altogether.
"Experience tells me that waiting until the 2011 session convenes in January means nothing would be decided for at least a month," Sen. Zarelli said, "and by then there would be less than five months to implement hundreds of millions of dollars in reductions. The closer we get to the end of this biennium without taking action, the more painful the solutions will be.
"A special session in early December really is the only responsible approach."
We'll add one more thing: Since the state's voters were in such a ferocious no-new-taxes mood, we recommend the majority Democrats bring minority Republicans into full partnership for the budget negotiations ahead.
They have some expertise, and the state's citizens are looking for solutions, not politicking, in the next few months.
Gov. Gregoire, call a special session now. The state cannot wait until 2011 to tackle the mess we are in.