Opinion

Reactions to Gregoire's proposed budget don’t fit stereotypes

Sound Off is a public forum. Items are selected from letters to the editor or may be written specifically for this feature. Today, in a piece taken from the Washington Alliance for a Competitive Economy’s blog, Gov. Christine Gregoire’s proposed no-taxes budget is getting mixed reviews — and not always from those one might have expected to praise or criticize the Democratic state excecutive.

As she predicted, reactions to the governor’s budget have been swift. While the scramble to understand the details will take us all a while, the broad brush strokes are enough to frame the likely debate.

Sen. Joe Zarelli likes the approach Gregoire has taken, saying it puts the process on the proper course. Zarelli is ranking Republican on the Senate Ways and Means Committee. His counterpart in the House, Rep. Gary Alexander, also likes the direction.

“I commend the governor for putting forth a balanced budget that does not raise taxes or fees,” Alexander said. “House Republicans have long believed that increasing taxes or fees is not the right approach while families are struggling with everyday expenses and workers are losing jobs.

“While there are certainly some details of her plan that we might do differently,” Alexander continued, “the governor has offered a good first step in correcting the past four years of overspending. ”

Alexander and Zarelli both emphasize the importance of building early savings into the 2009 supplemental budget.

Association of Washington Business President Don Brunell issued a brief statement, too.

Noting that AWB continues to review the budget proposal, Brunell emphasizes the groups support for her decision not to raise taxes on families and employers.

He adds, “It is critical that Washington state look beyond the current budget woes and prepare for what happens after we emerge from this recession. Part of that discussion must include creating the conditions for a healthy business environment so that when we do emerge from the recession, Washington is positioned as a good place to create those jobs.”

“As devastating as the economic conditions may be,” he noted, “the recession is an opportunity to reshape the way government operates and position our state to attract and retain businesses.”

Meanwhile, the largest union representing state workers called Gregoire’s plan dead on arrival.

They say that approvingly, looking for legislative support for tax hikes.

“Our biggest concern is that everything should be on the table and that includes tax loopholes and revenue enhancements,” Washnigton Federation Executive of State Employees Director Greg Devereux said. “If the economic parts of our negotiated contracts that were ratified two months ago can be suspended, why can’t a campaign pledge on no revenue increases be retracted?”

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown has reservations as well.

She calls reliance on $1 billion in federal assistance a “glaring flaw” and, pointedly, does not pledge to resist tax hikes.

Brad Shannon notes her concern in his Olympian story, which includes Alexander’s assessment that the estimated federal money is a “reasonable assumption.”

A recent Wall Street Journal story on the Obama stimulus plan adds weight to the Gregoire/Alexander position.

“The broad parameters of the package are known already,” the story notes. “It will include a tax cut designed to pump $50 billion to $100 billion into the economy almost immediately; about $100 billion in aid to state governments, primarily to temporarily assume more of the cost of Medicaid, in hopes of staving off benefit cuts or tax increases; and funding in five main areas: traditional infrastructure, school construction, energy efficiency, broadband access and health-information technology.”

Finally, the Washington Policy Center’s Jason Mercier weighed in with these comments:

“There will be a lot written and said about the governor’s budget in the coming days,” Mercier blogged. “We will hear a lot about drastic cuts and how the state will cease to function because of the governor’s proposed changes.

“One point,” he added, “that may get lost in the debate but shouldn’t is the fact that despite very real reductions in some programs, overall state spending will still be higher biennium over biennium if the governor’s budget is adopted.”

That’s right — the overall budget will still grow over previous cycles.

How is this possible? Despite the economic situation state revenues are still projected to grow biennium over biennium though at a slower rate than initially thought but it is growth nonetheless.

This is in contrast to the 2001-03 budget cycle when revenues actually decreased from the 1999-01 levels.

“We’ll have more to say about the governor’s budget after we’ve had time to read it line-by-line,” Mercier promised. “Assuming the Governor effectively prioritized and selected those programs demonstrating the best results, she should fight hard for her proposal and not let the Legislature use it as a floor for budget discussions. She should also fight legislative efforts to raise taxes.

The governor is absolutely correct when she said today: “No way to tax your way out of this problem. We have to live within our means.”

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