Each odd-numbered year, such as 2005, legislators must pass a state budget that spans the following two years.
This budget is derived from your tax dollars or other revenues and pays for public schools, higher education, human services, government and judicial operations, natural resources and other special appropriations.
By some estimates, our budget will face a $2-billion “shortfall” in 2005-07.
This leaves legislators with essentially two options: raise taxes, as some Democrats are signaling, or consider structural reforms that improve the delivery of state services and reduce costs in the process.
I support structural reforms.
Without reforms, we’ll continue to be at the mercy of markets and expenditures that run astray and likely have shortfalls every budget cycle. When this occurs, there will always be calls for tax increases in an attempt to fix the problem.
This is simply not sustainable in the long run.
Let’s take a look at our rapidly increasing health care costs. Should legislators continue to raise taxes to accommodate these costs or should they enact reforms that will help control costs and inflation?
I support reforms that will help us in the long run, including: a cost-benefit analysis of the state’s 47 health coverage mandates, medical malpractice reform, allowing for health savings accounts and focusing on other drivers of health care costs.
State government budgeting is really not much different from what families do – just on a larger scale. Yet government is not subject to the same economic realities families are.
Say, for instance, a family encounters financial problems. That family will likely have to examine its expenses closely and find places to save in its budget in order to pay the bills.
Government can simply raise taxes.
Can you imagine going to your neighbors each time you’re short on money for the bills?
Democratic leaders in the state Senate and House are sending strong signals that a tax increase may be coming. And, despite her campaign promise to the contrary, our governor is keeping the tax option on the table.
This is the wrong course to take.
An important part of being a legislator is listening to constituents. The people of this state collectively said “no new taxes” when voting on ballot initiatives last November. With our economy slowly recovering, now would be the worst time to raise taxes on families and job providers.
Instead, we should advance reforms that get our economy going, such as reining in regulatory taxes in workers compensation and other programs; reforming the state’s rule-making process to ensure accountability within government agencies; and extending tax incentives for start-ups and small employers to help stimulate job growth.
This, in turn, will generate more revenue needed to balance the budget and provide state services.
Our budget problem is not a new one. We faced a larger shortfall in 2003 when, fortunately, Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dino Rossi crafted a budget that made government live within its means, without shifting the tax burden to families and employers.
By balancing the 2003-05 budget in this way, we positioned our state for a quicker economic recovery by making it more competitive for employers and keeping more money in the pockets of citizens.
We need to build from Dino’s blueprint. Our 2005-07 budget is not just about the next two years – it’s about laying the foundation for our future. If we are going to pass a budget that is sustainable, we need to:
* prioritize state spending;
* address structural problems in state government;
* establish a statutory spending limit; and
* create a constitutional rainy-day fund that will protect taxpayers during economic downturns.
Let’s make sure legislators are responsible, accountable and forward-thinking with our state budget and tax dollars.
Rep. Jay Rodne, R-Snoqualmie, serves the 5th Legislative District and is House Republican Assistant Floor Leader.