Economizing now will avoid bigger deficit later

The most important action during the 2009 legislative session should take place within the first five days. Legislators and the governor have one shot to make the biggest, most immediate impact upon our state’s impending $5 billion shortfall. We’ve been given a mulligan of sorts. It’s called “The Supplemental Budget.”

Let me explain.

In a normal legislative session, legislators might be hard-pressed to place great import on the first week of activity.

The first five days or so are usually filled with a multitude of meetings, the pomp and circumstance of ceremonies, and refresher courses on where the state stands on every issue under the sun.

Make no mistake about it, the 2009 legislative session will be anything but a normal session.

No refresher course is needed to remind policy makers our state faces an historic budget shortfall of more than $5 billion.

The shadow from that one fact alone looms over every committee, every lobbyist, every agency, every program, every staff member and every elected official in Olympia.

While some would like to lay sole blame for our state’s budget hole on the doorstep of our nation’s economic woes, this tactic would not only be disingenuous, it would be an outright lie.

State budget writers have consistently increased the size and cost of government over the last four years, completely outpacing the size of revenue or income growth.

Certainly, our national and local economies have served to make a very bad situation even worse. However, every family in this state knows that if you spend more than your monthly check, you’re in for a world of hurt. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but someday, the cost of aggressive spending and irresponsible budgeting will have to be addressed.

State of Washington, meet your someday.

On top of our $5 billion budget hole in the 2009-11 biennium budget, some say the problem is exacerbated by the nearly $500 million deficit we’re facing for the remainder of the 2007-09 biennium. This immediate shortfall will be addressed in a supplemental budget.

Supplemental budgets are passed each year to make small, minor adjustments to the overall two-year spending plan. In essence, the 2009 supplemental budget affects the last six months of the biennium, or until July 1 of 2009.

Because much of our state’s deficit is due to new policy spending, this is where I choose to be an optimist. This is where we see our silver lining.

In my opinion, the fact that we’re facing an immediate $500 million problem is really a sheep in wolves’ clothing. It offers us an opportunity to make a significant dent in the $5 billion shortfall now, immediately! It’s Regis Philbin asking us, “Is that your final answer?”

If the Legislature and the governor pass a supplemental budget that shaves an easier-to-swallow $500 million off of the current budget, we will remove $2 billion from our projected $5 billion deficit.

This is not a misprint. If we save $500 million now, immediately, we save $2 billion down the road.

We can take a huge bite out of the projected future budget deficit by making some difficult, but doable, decisions now.

Every day we wait to pass the 2009 supplemental budget is another program, service or agency that will see more severe cuts in the future.

Many of us in Olympia have railed against the overspending of state government while speaking for the need to reign-in irresponsible budgeting. However, the “I told you so” line isn’t productive and certainly not conducive to reaching any type of bipartisan agreement.

What’s done is done. Now we need to fix it.

State Rep. Gary Alexander

(R-Lacey) represents Washington’s

20th Legislative District.

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