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Senate Plays Risky Game with the Budget

Posted by Kim Justice at May 16, 2013 02:35 PM |
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By Kim Justice and Mike Mitchell -- In the popular game Jenga, players take turns removing pieces out of a tower of wooden blocks while trying to avoid having the entire structure fall down. It’s a game of risk—much like the one the state Senate is playing now.

In this real-life case the “tower” is Washington state’s finances. The job of the legislature is to make sure the budget lays a solid foundation that does not come tumbling down. The Senate is failing at this.  Instead of raising the additional revenue it would take to meet public needs, the Senate relies on over $600 million in “funny money,” hidden cuts, and other actions that weaken the whole structure. Each move is like one of those wooden blocks being dislodged from the Jenga tower. It only takes a few unsound pieces before the whole thing falls to the ground.

Shaky Senate Budget

For example, the Senate would put only $35 million in the state’s savings account- or “unrestricted ending fund balance”- leaving little cushion to fall back on if there is an economic downturn or unanticipated needs.  That would trigger further cuts to public priorities like education, public safety, and a clean environment. 

Actions taken by the Senate that don’t hold up include (see box and appendix for more detail):

  • Hidden Cuts: $210 million in savings are estimated through administrative “efficiencies” and other unspecified reductions. After multiple years of cuts totaling over $10 billion, it’s inconceivable that agencies can lower costs without making actual cuts to staff, services, and programs. These savings will result in real and harmful cuts. 
  • Funny money: Over $200 million of the Senate budget is balanced by cuts that will not materialize. For example, shifting part-time workers to the health benefit exchange is claimed to save $127 million, but that expectation isn't realistic. Collectively-bargained contracts would have to be renegotiated in time for the start date, which is not feasible. The proposal assumes worker buy-in on a proposal that may not provide a net benefit to employees. 
  • Out of bounds: The Senate budget contains $195 million in funding that violates federal requirements and robs protected funds. For example, Washington state could face up to $19 million in federal penalties if, as the Senate budget fails to do, we do not fund a system to track home care hours, which is estimated to cost $9.7 million.   

The state budget is not a game. To create jobs and build the middle class, we need a budget that works for all Washingtonians, not one built on illusions that put us at risk. The Senate should follow the lead of the Governor and House who choose to raise additional revenue by closing outdated tax breaks and extending taxes now in effect. 

Shaky Budget Table

 

Shaky Budget Appendix_1

 

 

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