I’m not sure what Bruce Ramsey’s point is?
According to the latest story, the projected deficit in state government finances is $5.1 billion, up from $3.2 billion. The Times said before the election, in our endorsement of Dino Rossi, that the deficit might get to $5 billion by next spring, and we arrive at that figure early, in November.
A progressive blogger accused us of making a deceptive noise about the deficit, which he said did not really exist and was only a projection. Of course, that was before the election, too. Now it’s over, and the big problem is in the lap of Gov. Christine Gregoire and the two houses of the Legislature.
Well, it wasn’t a budget deficit, it was a projected revenue shortfall, and the size of the shortfall really wasn’t the issue. The next biennium budget will be balanced, one way or the other, regardless of who is governor or which party controls the Legislature. The issue in the election was always, who do we trust to make the hard choices necessary to balance the budget, consistent with the values of the majority of Washingtonians?
(Hint: the voters’ answer was Gov. Gregoire.)
As for “deceptive noise,” it certainly was, and still is. This budget crisis is not the result of overspending; the culprit in Washington, as in every other state in the union, is declining tax revenues. Gov. Gregoire did not create this shortfall… our crappy national economy did. And the Times’ efforts to promote Rossi as some sort of punishment or remedy for a revenue shortfall Gregoire didn’t create, was indeed deceptive.
It also serves to distract from the larger issue of Washington’s long-term structural revenue deficit, that when projected through both the good and the bad years, absolutely guarantees that state spending as a percentage of the state economy will steadily and dramatically shrink over the next few decades.
During the final few weeks of the campaign, Rossi and his surrogates relentlessly attacked Gregoire, alleging that she would instate an income tax. She can’t and she won’t. But despite its lack of political support, and even though such a dramatic restructuring could not possibly be implemented fast enough to address our current budget crisis, it is past time to start having a serious discussion about how to modernize our state tax system to meet the needs of our 21st Century post-industrial economy.
Our projected, $5 billion shortfall is largely the result of a particularly steep, downward swing in the economic cycle, but given a tax system that year over year taxes an ever shrinking portion of our economy, the long-term deficit will remain, even after the good times return. Our current tax system is a 75-year-old improvisation, hurriedly constructed in the wake of a controversial court decision that overturned a voter-approved income tax, and it has long since proven itself to be outdated, inadequate and grossly unfair.
Now is the time to start a real discussion about how to modernize our tax structure to meet the needs of our modern economy. And if the Times is willing to put aside the rhetoric and seriously join this debate, I’ll be more than happy to join them.