State lawmakers return to Olympia on Monday to begin a 105-day session. Say a prayer for them — and us.
Senators and representatives face a nearly impossible task: how to balance a state budget that’s already out of whack before they even get to Olympia.
Yes, the state expects to get an additional $2.8 billion in revenue over the next two years. However, that money is essentially already spent — on such things as increased pension costs, health care costs and ongoing expenses.
At the same time, Gov. Jay Inslee wants to give state employees a raise, the state Supreme Court has held the Legislature in contempt for not adequately funding education and voters last November approved Initiative 1351, which requires smaller class sizes in all grades.
Inslee’s proposed budget would raise an additional $1.4 billion through a combination of tax increases and a charge on carbon pollution. But even that isn’t enough to do everything required. In addition to education, the state also is on the hook to pay for courts, public safety (think prisons) and health. What is left on the chopping block are such things as higher education and social services.
Jacking up college tuition will mean fewer middle- and low-income students will get the education they need to compete in the world marketplace. Gutting social services will mean turning our backs on the poorest of our neighbors who struggle just to stay alive.
This doesn’t mean there aren’t acceptable answers to the state’s budget dilemma. But it does mean that it will mean making careful decisions that work both in the short term and long term. It’s likely some programs or plans will have to be delayed or trimmed. It’s also likely that the state will have to find a way to raise more money.
We think most lawmakers have the smarts to make this happen. The question is, do they have the will to stand up and do it?
– Craig Groshart, Issaquah & Sammamish Reporter