Majority rules? Not this time.
Yesterday, with a majority of members voting “Yea” (yes), the State House of Representatives passed a budget for the 2011-2013 biennium containing massive cuts to core public services like health care and education. Yet hours later, a measure that would reign-in wasteful spending on a tax break for out-of-state banks to help fund K-3 education failed on the House Floor, even though it too received a majority vote. How was the House able to cut one form of state spending with a majority vote but not another? The culprit is Initiative 1053.
Initiative 1053 and its predecessor I-960 have exacerbated the effects of the recession in our state by creating a distorted and irrational state budget process. Especially during times of crisis, it is imperative that all forms of state spending be transparently scrutinized and prioritized by policymakers. However, by mandating a super majority (two-thirds) legislative vote for any action that increases state tax revenues, I-1053 effectively prohibits lawmakers from carefully examining state spending on special tax breaks. As a result, throughout the Great Recession elected officials have relied on excessive and on economically damaging cuts to health care, education, public safety, and other core public structures in order to balance the state budget.
The current state budget agreement vividly demonstrates this troubling dynamic. As we noted yesterday, painful cuts to basic public services account for some 90 percent of proposed actions to address the $5 billion shortfall , the difference between projected tax revenues and the amount needed to maintain basic levels of services in the coming 2011-13 biennium.
Senator Ed Murray recently introduced legislation that would give voters the chance to create a more balanced and rational budget process in our state. Senate Bill 5944 would allow policymakers to modify state spending on narrow tax breaks via a simple majority vote of the legislature, if approved by voters on the November ballot. With only a few hours left until the end of the legislative session, it is unlikely that voters will be given the opportunity to make this important correction.