Why cuts? Just slow the rate of spending growth

Having concluded the opening-week festivities — the governor’s riveting State of the State speech and the teachers’ union flocking en masse to Olympia to stake out its spot at the head of the public trough, to name just two — it’s time for the state’s lawmakers to get down to the serious work of making Washington whole again.

First and foremost, there is the small matter of a $2.4 billion difference between the amount of revenue the state plans to collect during the next biennium and the amount it had planned to spend.

This inability to spend as much of our money as they had planned, of course, is a huge source of consternation to lawmakers, and to the special interests to whom they promised a certain number of dollars in return for the votes that brought them to Olympia in the first place.

But a closer look the the numbers provides an interesting perspective. According to a study released last week by the Olympia-based Evergreen Freedom Foundation, the state’s whopping $2.4 bllion shortfall could be slashed to a more manageable $900,00 by the stroke of a pen, simply by holding spending at the curent level.

Aproximately $1.524 billion of Gov. Gary Locke’s $2.4 billion in budget “cuts” is not comprised of actual cuts. It is simply a decrease in hoped-for increases. Making “cuts” in these areas does not affect existing programs or existing funding levels.

Moreover, at least one-third of the Draconian budget cuts you’ve read so much about in recent weeks are not cuts at all. They simply delay, reduce or eliminate plans for increased spending and expanded programs.

Consider the governor’s “cuts”:

n $389 million that would have expanded the Basic Health Plan;

n $351 million in future raises for state employees and vendors;

n $229 million in future cost-of-living raises for teacher;

n $221 million in new allocations for class size reduction;

n $140 million in general funds planned to offset higher college tuition;

n $111 million in forecasted higher costs for health benefits; and,

n $83 million reduction in pension collections due to new calculations.

None of which is to suggest the state doesn’t have an accounting problem or that difficult choices won’t have to be made. But when the real cutting starts, our choice for a good place to start would be cutting out the deceptive language about whether the state’s ills are caused by declining revenues or out-of-control spending.

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