Ending the state’s budget deficit trap

Guest columnist

  • Friday, October 3, 2008 3:14am
  • Opinion
Ending the state's budget deficit trap

Year after year, biennium after biennium, our state faces a deficit between the amount of tax revenues we collect and the funds needed to meet the state’s wish list.

In the 2003-2005 budget cycle, we were facing a $2.7-billion gap. Thanks to careful budget prioritizing by Sen. Dino Rossi and other lawmakers, we made tough choices and balanced the budget. Yet here we are, two years later, facing the same problem all over again.

For this biennium, thanks in part to our recovering economy, we will have more revenue available than we did for the last two-year budget. But, we will still be $2.2-billion short of what’s needed to keep the state running at current levels. So lawmakers will again be scrambling to find new revenues or cut major programs. And on and on it goes.

It’s time to end the ongoing cycle of boom-and-bust funding that continues to plague our state. Voters have very clearly said they want us to spend within our means on priorities like education, health care and the environment. That’s why during this legislative session I am sponsoring two measures that will do both, while ending our cycle of budget deficits.

One proposal, House Joint Resolution 4210, would create a Required Reserve Fund – also called a “rainy day” fund – within our state’s constitution. Our state has such a fund, but it is not set in the constitution, nor does it have specific safeguards to prevent raiding of the account for excess spending. Under my proposal, the state would transfer 1 percent of revenue each fiscal year from the state general fund to the new reserve fund. The total in the fund would top out at 10 percent of annual revenues. Spending from the rainy-day account would require a 60-percent majority vote in both the state House and Senate. But in lean times, when the state’s revenue growth is less than 1 percent, spending from the fund would require only a majority vote.

The second proposal, House Bill 1835, would change our state constitution to restore a legal spending limit. It would close loopholes that have allowed lawmakers to raise spending limits and require the Legislature and governor to create a budget that fits the spending limit, rather than the other way around.

It’s time lawmakers set money aside to protect citizens from needless tax increases and draconian cuts to core services during economic downturns. And it’s time to stop disregarding the state’s spending limit. Just as families act responsibly by keeping spending within their income and saving for a rainy day, these measures would help us create a more dependable source of funds and restore fiscal integrity to our state budget.

It’s what citizens are asking for and what the Legislature should do.

Rep. Glenn Anderson (R-Fall City) is assistant ranking Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, which considers the state’s operating budget.




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