Forecasted state revenue: $21,404 per minute


April 15, 2003 Opinion-Editorial

by Bob Williams, Evergreen Freedom Foundation

You know him. Hes the guy who doesnt know how to responsibly manage his money. He has a sports car, a new stereo system, designer clothes, and four maxed-out credit cards . . . and he bums lunch money from you at the end of the month.

Unfortunately, it seems many of our states House Democrats fit this profile when it comes to managing taxpayer money.

Current forecasts show legislators will have $22.5 billion to spend in the 2003-05 budget cycle. Thats $21,404 per minuteor $356.74 per secondfor two years.

Apparently this isnt enough for some lawmakers. It seems they have a hard time distinguishing between essential and non-essential expenditures. They havent learned how to prioritize spending. They want it all, they want it now, and theyre willing to mortgage our future, pillage the states savings account, and raise taxes yet again to pay for it.

Managing money requires setting priorities and forgoing non-essentials when necessary. Two bucks here and five bucks there add up quick. The legislators who wrote our state budgets over the past decade spent a million here and a billion thereand it eventually added up to more than the state collects.

So what did they do? They borrowed from future revenue to pay current expenses. During the economic prosperity of the 1990s, state spending increased by an average of ten percent every two years. Lawmakers put very little money into a rainy-day fund, apparently believing we could defy history with an unending economic boom. Now taxpayers are stuck paying the bills.

In the last budget cycle (2001-03), Senator Lisa Brown (D-Spokane) wrote the budget. She and her team refused to prioritize spending and make necessary cuts, even though the warning signs of an economic train wreck were flashing. Instead, she smashed the state piggy bank and mortgaged a sizable chunk of the states tobacco settlement to patch the holes in her unsustainable budget.

Sadly, a majority of her legislative colleagues voted with her, and we are paying a high price today for their decision. Much of the cost of governments overspending was shifted to businesses, which are now leaving our state. Many business owners say it just isnt profitable to operate in Washington anymore. Their absence diminishes the job market and raises unemployment rates.

Ironically, in spite of the recession and our states high unemployment rates, tax revenue is up. Lawmakers will have six percent more revenue in the 2003-05 budget cycle than they did in this one. We dont have a shortage of money, we have an excess of expenses. Taxpayers now support more than 102,000 full-time state employees, more than 9,000 of whom were added to the state payroll during Governor Lockes administration.

Many of the lawmakers moaning about not having enough money to spend also vehemently insist theres no waste in the budget. Its true some waste has been cut: In 2001, the legislature dissolved 18 commissions, including the Sea Urchin and Sea Cucumber Advisory Board. But more than 300 commissions and boards still exist, at a cost to taxpayers of more than $400 million annually. In addition, state auditor findings show the Liquor Control Board has been unable to account for millions of dollars in sales, the Department of Labor & Industries cant account for more than $4.7 million in industrial insurance payments, the state Ferry System just failed its fifteenth audit in a row . . . and the list goes on.

So whats the good news? Governor Locke began this legislative session by proposing a balanced, no-new-taxes budget based on a new model called Priorities of Government (POG). Senate Republicans followed his lead and recently introduced a budget based on priorities without tax increases. (Unfortunately, despite this proof that a balanced budget is possible without raising taxes, House Democrats are still debating a variety of tax increases.)

The POG process makes sense. After all, thats how the average household budget works: How much money does the household have? What are the family priorities? Those expenditures are made first. Few of us have the option of telling our bosses we need a pay increase because our spending exceeds our income. In fact, in these difficult times many of us are thankful to have our job at all!

Responsible budgeting is about priorities and accountability. State legislators must be willing to carefully evaluate their expenditures and prioritize without raising taxes. Citizens have repeatedly made it clear through initiatives and referendums that they do not want to pay more taxes. Lawmakers should cut up the states "credit card," stop overspending, and start making those tough but important decisions.

Bob Williams is president of the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, an Olympia-based policy research organization.

Evergreen Freedom Foundation
A Non-Profit Public Policy Organization
PO Box 552, Olympia, WA 98507
(360) 956-3482,
Contact: Marsha Richards, Communications Director
(360) 956-3482 office
(253) 370-2710 cell



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