Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Balancing the budget – ideas from the left and right

Finding ways to address an almost $6 billion revenue shortfall isn’t a job for the faint of heart. That's like cutting at least 500 programs that cost $10 million each. Or imagine it this way - if you combined our state's entire higher education budget ($3.8 billion) and Department of Corrections budget ($1.9 billion), you could get to the magic number. The bottom line is that balancing the budget will take a lot more than a few nips and tucks (and Washington isn't the only state sharpening its budget knife).

When it comes to ideas, though, there seems to be no shortage. Legislators coming to Olympia next month are getting an earful from, well, pretty much everyone. Below is a small sampling from two prominent think tanks - one conservative-leaning group and the other progressive. It shows the range of diverse ideas floating about.

Ideas from the Washington Policy Center, a conservative think tank:
  • Don’t ask for federal bailout money.
  • Cut salaries versus layoffs.
  • Get the state out of the liquor business.
  • Increase state employee health care cost sharing.
  • Merge state agencies with similar responsibilities (L&I/ESD).
  • Eliminate prevailing wage.
  • Re-negotiate the union contract and eliminate pay raises for all employees – managers, elected officials, everyone for the next 4 years.
Ideas from the Budget and Policy Center, a progressive think tank:
  • A withdrawal from the Rainy Day Fund.
  • A temporary general sales tax increase.
  • Fully offsetting the sales tax increase for lower-income working families through the Working Families Rebate.
  • Careful consideration of budget choices including tax expenditures.
Governor Gregoire is expected to release her budget proposal on Thursday and it will be our first look at exactly what it will take to balance the budget.