We agree with Gov. Chris Gregoire on at least one thing -- cuts in state spending she proposed last week are unacceptable.
"I have seen the ramifications of the cuts," Gregoire told reporters at a news conference in Olympia. "I can't live with it."
But her call for a statewide referendum on a temporary half-cent sales tax increase is premature. The last thing Washington taxpayers need at this stage is to let the Legislature off the hook by dangling some false hope of new revenues.
We understand the need for urgency. The Legislature must vote by Dec. 30 to send a tax referendum to voters for it to appear on the March 13 ballot.
But before lawmakers consider asking voters to increase state sales taxes by nearly $500 million a year, even temporarily, they'll need to show they've already used up every reasonable alternative.
The governor is required to present a balanced budget plan using the state's latest revenue projections. That mandate resulted in a proposal -- released last week -- to cut $1.7 billion in state spending.
She's also suggesting up to $835 million in revenue, including the sales tax plan, to buy back some of the cuts. But her budget proposal can't include any additional revenues.
It's no exaggeration to say her all-cuts plan would wreak havoc on local schools, higher education, the criminal justice system and social programs that protect the state's most vulnerable residents.
Over the next month, legislators meeting in a special session will produce their own -- and we hope better -- spending plan.
Key measures in Gregoire's proposal include:
* Saving about $130 million by eliminating the Disability Lifeline program and the Basic Health Plan, which together provide medical services to 55,000 people.
* Saving $41 million by reducing prison sentences for low- and moderate-risk offenders by 150 days early and reducing supervision for offenders to one year except sex offenders who will be supervised for two years. Offenders currently are supervised for up to three years.
* Cutting $50 million from state subsidies for child care, ending aid for about 4,000 working families.
* Saving $99 million by shortening the school year by four days.
* Reducing state support for poor school districts by $150 million.
* Cutting $160 million in state support for higher education -- a 17 percent reduction for the top universities.
The governor maintains that state government has reached the tipping point between raising taxes or draconian cuts.
Republicans remain unconvinced.
In his response to the governor's proposal, Senate Republican Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, renewed his party's call for government reforms ahead of taxes.
"Senate Republicans have already put forward ideas to reform some of our state's biggest cost-drivers, such as ending lawsuit abuse, real changes to our state's pension plans, more competitive contracting of state services and Medicaid reform," Hewitt said.
"The people of our state want us to look at reforms before revenue. That's a better approach to growing our economy, creating jobs and producing a more sustainable budget."
Hewitt also said Senate Republicans are committed to a bipartisan approach to solving the state's budget crisis. That's good news.
Unlike the other Washington, where partisan intransigence has put a stranglehold on seemingly every attempt to solve the nation's problems, our state lawmakers are capable of working together.
We saw it earlier this year, when Democrats and Republicans in the Senate worked together to resolve a similar budget deficit. Then, as now, there were no painless solutions, but the compromise needed to a reach bipartisan consensus produced a better budget than either party could have on its own.
Voters know additional cuts can be made without further damage to essential programs.
Certainly, a 17 percent cut to Washington State University would erode the quantity and quality of education offered at the institution.
But does that mean there isn't any additional savings to be found at Pullman? The state had better prove it before asking voters for higher taxes.
Making conservative lawmakers full partners in the budget process will make any request for additional taxes more palatable.
The public will support tax increases when necessary, even in tough economic times. Earlier this month, Franklin County voters approved a 30-year increase in their sales tax to improve public safety. Similar measures passed in communities across the state.
But the case for new revenues must be clear and convincing. The Legislature hasn't a chance unless it can show every other avenue is exhausted.
They haven't even started yet.