Buck says Locke budget is tax increase waiting to happen 

The $22.7 billion budget proposed this week by Gov. Gary Locke could drag the state into a financial emergency and set the stage for a likely tax increase, according to Rep. Jim Buck. The Locke budget, which Buck described as shortsighted and perilous, includes $1.2 billion in new spending and ignores what is rapidly becoming a statewide transportation crisis.

The veteran 24th District lawmaker recalled the 1991 budget drafted by

Locke, who was then chairman of the former House Ways and Means Committee. That plan spent $695 million more than expected revenue and led to the biggest tax increase in state history in 1993. Under the proposal offered by Locke Dec. 19, expenditures would exceed expected revenue by $425 million. 

"I think we're looking at a scenario in which a painful chapter in state history could be repeated," said Buck, R-Joyce. He also noted that Locke's plan to provide $325 million pay raises would alter the voter-approved spending limit, which Buck said would break faith with Washington taxpayers. "The voters sent a potent message when they approved Initiative 601 in 1993.

They underscored that message with the passage of I-695 in 1999. The citizens of Washington want the governor and the Legislature to identify efficiencies, set sound priorities, and hold spending in check. In other words, they've directed us to do more with less. 

The governor's budget and his opposition to the spending limit flies in the face of what the taxpayers have demanded of us," Buck said. "Taking on that much new spending while local communities are facing cuts in existing services is neither realistic nor responsible," he said. "Before we add new spending obligations, we need to ensure that essential services are covered. At a time when local governments have taken cuts in each of the last two years, I'd prefer that we meet the needs we have before taking on new commitments." 

Locke also proposed taking $170 million from the state's emergency reserve fund to pay for highway maintenance and preservation, but there is no ongoing funding in the plan for new improvements. 

"The governor says he's made transportation a priority, but in reality he's spent all the money on other new programs. Apart from preservation and maintenance of existing highways, his budget provides no vision for a long-term solution to the state's critical transportation needs," Buck said. "What the governor proposed is nothing more than a $9 billion holiday wish list with no plan to pay for it. Combine that with over a billion dollars in new spending, and we're looking at a recipe for a fiscal crisis. 

"Washington's citizens understand how to set priorities and manage their personal and business finances, but that concept of responsible fiscal discipline has apparently eluded the governor and his budget writers. We expect more from our governor, and his failure of leadership is very disappointing," Buck concluded.

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