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So what will next year’s budget look like?
February 28, 2010 @ 5:22pm | Lary Coppola
As of this writing, this year’s legislative session is winding down, with the focus narrowing to closing the projected $2.8 billion budget deficit. The Democratic-controlled legislature has made it abundantly clear it doesn’t give a damn what voters facing the worst economic times since the Great Depression think or want. Both the House and Senate votes to suspend I-960 sent a clear message that the state employee unions — who bused in thousands of people off work for the President’s Day holiday to counter the Push Back Rally — are in charge, not the people who voted them into office.
To gladly give credit where it’s due, voting against the suspension of 1-960, and respecting the will of the majority of voters statewide who passed anti-spending initiatives for the third time in recent years, were Senators Derek Kilmer (D-Gig Harbor) and Tim Sheldon (D-Potlatch), along with 26th District Representatives Jan Angel (R-Port Orchard), Larry Seaquist (D-Gig Harbor), and 35th District Representative Fred Finn (D-Olympia).
Local legislators voting to suspend the measure and clear the way for raising your taxes, were all the Democrats elected from the 23rd District — Representatives Sherry Appleton, Christine Rolfes and Senator Phil Rockefeller — along with 35th District Representative Kathy Haigh, also a Democrat.
Suspending the measure came on a simple majority vote, which means the legislature couldn’t muster a 2/3 majority that agreed there aren’t more spending cuts to be made before raising taxes.
This leads to another question. How big will the budget deficit be next year if the state continues to spend at the same unrestricted rate it is now — even after making some cuts and raising our taxes?
Coincidentally, on the same day the House voted to suspend I-960, I had one of those, unexpected, out of the blue conversations with someone who knows more than a little about the state budget, Dino Rossi.
We became friends during the 2004 Governor’s election, and have stayed in touch ever since. Rossi was the architect of the 2003 state budget, which faced a similar shortfall, but was balanced without tax increases or cutting social services to the most vulnerable in our state.
After I took the opportunity to pitch him on bringing investors he’s working with in his “real job” in commercial real estate to look at Port Orchard, naturally, the talk got around to politics and what’s happening in Olympia.
You may remember that during the 2008 Governor’s race, Rossi predicted the current economic downturn and resulting budget shortfall, and began warning as far back as 2007 that serious spending cuts were needed, or Governor Christine Gregoire would raise our taxes. Those warnings fell on deaf ears as Gregoire blatantly flimflammed the voters, saying that there was no deficit, none on the horizon, and that we had a budget surplus.
Technically, part of that was true at the time. There actually had been a budget surplus — in excess of $2 billion — the largest in state history. However, on Election Day 2008, Gregoire knew less than 25 percent of that surplus was left, and she was burning through it at a rate that would exhaust it long before legislative negotiations on the 2009 budget even began.
But that’s all water under the bridge now, and in spite of Rossi being right, it doesn’t change the reality that the legislature isn’t willing to stop spending, or to make meaningful budget cuts for the long term that will solve the problem going forward.
Under Gregoire, the state has reportedly added in excess of 8,000 new state employees, whose average salary is about one third higher than that of comparable private sector jobs. That’s after former Governor Gary Locke added more than 11,000 new hires. In addition to the $70,000+ annually (plus benefits) these folks average, there’s a huge unfunded pension liability for these folks looming for future taxpayers.
What exactly is it all these folks do anyway, and where is that pension money going to come from since we’re already being taxed unmercifully just to pay for them while they’re still working?
Rossi predicted that next year, the shortfall will be somewhere in the neighborhood of $9 billion. Is he right? Time will tell. However, if he is, there won’t be a lot of federal stimulus money to plug a hole that big, Gregoire has already sold off the tobacco settlement money to backfill last year’s deficit, and with the legislature raising taxes on everything in sight now, what will be left to tax next year?
Meanwhile, state employee unions continue to clamor for more money. They already own Gregoire and a big part of the legislature — openly threatening to not supply campaign money to any legislator up for re-election (read: all of them) who votes against their dictates. There’s also the question of fully funding basic education after the recent landmark court decision. Meanwhile, spending continues unabated, with the initiative dictates of the taxpayers blatantly ignored.
The state’s cash cow — small business — which creates the majority of jobs, is already being taxed and regulated into extinction in Washington. Between the dismal economy, and the state’s spending, if you’re a small businessperson, you have to wonder what the future holds for you, and if all your hard work and sacrifice are worth it — or at least worth continung to make in our state. But hey, look on the bright side — if things don’t change, you can probably get a job in state government!
During my conversation with Rossi, the talk turned to a couple of polls showing him in a dead heat with Senator Patty Murray — should he choose to run against her.
For him, it comes down to family. He has a teenager starting high school next year, and the choice is uprooting his family to move to the other Washington, doing nothing, or perhaps taking another shot at the governor’s mansion in 2012, depending on what his friend Attorney General Rob McKenna does. McKenna is reportedly eying the governor’s mansion himself.
Rossi claimed he isn’t running — but he didn’t exactly slam the door shut either, giving his usual semi-denial, saying, “I never said I wouldn’t run for public office again.”
Ever since President Obama was elected, conservative pundits like Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, and the all-time King of Pompousness, Rush Limbaugh, have all complained that he is somehow managing to simultaneously do absolutley nothing, while actively doing everything possible to destroy America as we know it.
Is it just me, or wasn’t Obama supposed to be “the one” to unite us? Obviously, he’s failed miserably, since he can’t even get these guys to agree with themselves.
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