Is state budget being cut or are words being parsed?


As we’ve all heard from the folks in Olympia who are trying to craft a state budget, times are still lean. Revenue isn’t meeting expectations and cuts must be made.

Why then has the Democrat-controlled House proposed a budget that would increase government spending by 10 percent and the mostly Republican-controlled Senate proposed a 7 percent increase in spending?

It’s all in how “cut” is defined.

Most people consider a budget cut to be spending fewer dollars in the coming year than were spent previous year.

But in Olympia (or Washington, D.C. and other capital cities) cuts occur when the increase in spending does not exceed the rate of new expenses. So it’s a cut if revenue doesn’t cover the rate of inflation or mandatory pay raises or, well, makes someone unhappy.

Adding to the confusion to those who believe two plus two equals four is that Democrats and Republicans have different takes on what they consider a budget cut. And even then, the definition can morph if defining something as a cut rather than an increase is politically advantageous.

All this explains (but not necessarily justify) the way in which the budget proposals are being described.

The House Democrats proposed a budget plan Wednesday to eliminate a variety of tax breaks to help add funding for education and avoid implementing the Senate-approved (Olympia) cuts to social services (reducing the amount of money requested to fully fund programs).

So in dollars and cents this means the House wants to spend $34.5 billion over two years, about $1 billion more than was OK’d by the Senate.

The Legislature approved about $32 billion in spending for 2012-2013 budget (which ends June 30). When revenue collection failed to meet revenue projections, three special sessions of the Legislature were called to move money around and trim more than $1 billion in spending.

The budgets proposed by the House and approved by the Senate are far from done. Ultimately, Senate and House budget negotiators will get together and hammer out a compromise that conservative-leaning Senate and liberal-leaning House can accept.

That budget is likely to call for more than $31 billion in spending.

But whether the budget approved will be considered one calling for cuts will depend on whether the definition used is Merriam-Webster’s or Olympia’s.


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