Locke on budget: new approach, maybe new taxes

By David Ammons
The Associated Press
The Seattle Times


OLYMPIA, WAŚ Gov. Gary Locke said yesterday he isn't ruling out taxes to help close a yawning state budget deficit but right now is concentrating on finding a way to shoehorn all essential state services into a $22.7 billion budget using existing revenue.

Using management-speak that included referring to the state government as an enterprise, the governor said he is using a new approach to the budget. It involves identifying the top priorities of government, the absolutely essential programs, and measuring all budget requests against 10 goals.

Locke unveils his spending proposal for dealing with a projected $2 billion deficit on Dec. 17.

The 10 goals are improvement of student achievement, the state work force, higher education, health, security of vulnerable adults and children, economic vitality for business and individuals, transportation and infrastructure, public safety, natural resources, and cultural and recreational opportunities.

"This process departs from the traditional approach of cutting or adding to an existing budget," said Budget Director Marty Brown. "We want the result to be a state budget that citizens can look at and say, 'Yes, if nothing else, those are things the government must pay for.' "

Locke conceded that virtually every program of government fits into one of those categories but said not everything can survive the budget knives. "One way or the other, something has to go," he said at a news conference. "Whatever we do, there will be significant cuts in services and programs."

Although his budget office indicated he won't propose a new-taxes draft on Dec. 17, Locke didn't rule out signing a budget that is balanced with new revenue.

"At the end of the day, it might not be enough, but we're not there yet," the governor said. " Later he added, "We may decide that (a no-new-taxes budget) is not acceptable. We may have to say more revenue is needed."

He mentioned gambling and "sin" taxes but said he wants to hold the line on substantial expansion of gambling: "I don't want Washington to became a Las Vegas."

Locke said he's directed state agencies to submit budget plans that divide their costs into thirds by program area, clearly identifying their most dispensable spending.

He has assigned budget teams, including executives on loan from the private sector, to set priorities for budget winners in each of his 10 categories. Locke's work was praised by one sometime critic, Richard Davis, head of the business-oriented Washington Research Council, who called the approach bold and courageous.

"They are asking the right questions and departing from a business-as-usual approach," he said at Locke's event.


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