Saturday, July 24, 2010
Lawmakers won't convene in Olympia to write the state budget until January, but Gov. Chris Gregoire has - to her credit - already started the budgeting process.
And she is involving the public as well as state leaders.
The approach is necessary given the already grim fiscal outlook for the 2011-2013 budget cycle.
The state Office of Financial Management released a report last month with a projected $3 billion shortfall for the upcoming two-year budget cycle.
This does not mean there is a deficit, it means that anticipated spending requests for the next two years are $3 billion more than anticipated revenue. That means either more revenue - usually from taxes or fees - must be generated or cuts have to be made to spending requests.
The governor is reaching out to the people. She is holding four town-hall-type meetings to explain the budget situation and to seek suggestions from the public on how to save money.
In addition, a website has been established - transformwabudget.ideascale.com - where citizens can weigh in.
As of last week, the most popular suggestion was to legalize marijuana. It's unlikely Gregoire or state lawmakers are inclined to go in that direction.
Other popular suggestions were to "stop wasting money on art" and "stop state employee from double-dipping into both pension and payroll."
There were hundreds of other suggestions. Some solid ideas will likely emerge from this endeavor.
Gregoire's budget director, Marty Brown, said this effort is focused on finding ways to save money, not to raise revenue or taxes.
At this point, given the state's overall economy health, adding new taxes doesn't make sense. Such action could slow or reverse the economic recovery that's been predicted.
Gregoire is also asking state agencies to cut their budgets by focusing on fiscal responsibility, efficiency and performance.
In a news release, the governor's office offered these and other questions for state officials to consider when budgeting.
• Is the activity an essential service?
• Does state government have to perform the activity, or can it be provided by others?
• Can the activity be eliminated or delayed in recessionary times?
• Does the activity need to be paid for with state general funds?
Gregoire and her staff appear to be on the right track here.
Still, it's going to be a difficult process. At the first meeting, which was held in Tacoma, interest groups arguing against cuts outnumbered those suggesting cuts.
In the end, however, cuts have to be made. Gregoire understands that harsh reality.
Seeking to educate citizens on the situation and soliciting their help in finding solutions makes sense.