There are dueling editorials in Seattle’s two dailies today regarding the projected $3.2 billion revenue deficit facing budget writers in the next biennium. And if you’ve ever wondered why it’s necessary to have two dailies, well, this is a great example.
The Seattle Times leads off by intentionally misinforming their readers:
AFTER the deficit in the next state budget increased by $529 million Thursday, Gov. Christine Gregoire called on her director of finance to suggest $200 million in immediate cuts. It was a good move, if late.
Yeah, thanks for the backhanded compliment Frank, but as I’ve previously explained, there is no state budget deficit. You can call it a “budget deficit” if you want, but that doesn’t make it so, and technically, you are absoposilutely wrong.
Had current revenues during this current biennium fallen below budgeted expenditures, that would have constituted a budget deficit. But they haven’t. In fact, we are still generating a small surplus. What the Times is referring to is a revenue forecast that would project a deficit in the next budget should spending continue to grow at its current rate, which it won’t, because the state is constitutionally prohibited from running deficits.
The governor blamed the shortfall on the disaster in Wall Street and, by implication, on the Bush administration. That was not altogether convincing.
You know what I don’t find all that convincing? An editorial page that routinely misleads its readers… you know, like the time you guys lauded Sweden for repealing their estate tax, without bothering to mention that they replaced it with a 1.5% annual wealth tax. Or, you know, like when you label a revenue forecast a “budget deficit” when you know that it isn’t.
Whatever the cause of the Wall Street crisis — and we think most of the blame is in the private sector — some kind of economic downturn would have happened eventually, and Gregoire’s budget was not ready for it.
And eventually, our Sun will exhaust its supply of hydrogen, swell up into a red giant, and swallow the earth. But that doesn’t stop me from planting a garden.
The point is, the governor could have let state spending continue to shrink as a percentage of our economy, socking away a few billion dollars for a rainy day… though the last time we tried that, Tim Eyman used the surplus as ammunition to pass his tax-cutting I-695. Or, we could spend the money when have it, and then not spend so much when we don’t. The latter option makes writing the 2010-11 budget more difficult, but in the meanwhile, class sizes have been reduced and tens of thousands of children have been given access to health care.
The rest of the Times editorial is filled with self-righteous I told you so’s and meaningless blah-blah-blah’s. So let’s move on to the Seattle P-I, which offers a more concise, accurate and thoughtful approach to the issue.
Beware of the new TV ads that blame Gov. Chris Gregoire for the state’s deficit; it’s a story more complicated than a 30-second hit will allow.
Damn straight. And apparently, a story more complicated than the rival Times is willing to tell.
The most important thing to know is that state spending is not the problem. We’re spending less as a percentage of personal income than we did a decade ago. But Washington does have a revenue problem. As the Washington State Budget and Policy Center wrote last February: “These problems are not new, nor will they go away without addressing the structural deficits embedded in our revenue system. As it stands, the state is not able to raise enough funds to keep up with state spending, which is largely in line with past budgets as a share of the economy.”
Oh my gosh! A newspaper editorial that relies on actual facts instead of Republican talking points! As I’ve repeatedly pointed out, state spending as a percentage of the economy (the only measure academics will tell you that really matters), has remained relatively flat in recent years. In fact, the last time I checked, over the past decade, state and local spending combined has declined from 11.2 percent of personal income to about 10.3 percent.
But you won’t read about facts like that in the Times editorial, because it interferes with their opinion.
The P-I concludes:
A shrinking economy makes the revenue picture worse. But the state’s education, social services and health care programs are more important — essential — during an economic crisis.
Yes, yes, yes! The real question facing voters this November is not whether the next budget will be balanced, but rather, who do you trust to make the tough choices necessary to balance the budget while representing the values and priorities of the majority of voters.
Gov. Gregoire is the the pro-child candidate, and she’ll work hard to protect the needs of our children. Dino Rossi is the pro-business candidate, and he’ll work hard to protect the priorities of his corporate sponsors. Gov. Gregoire is the pro-environment candidate, and she’ll fight to maintain environmental regulations, enforcement and clean-up. Dino Rossi is the pro-BIAW candidate, and he’ll fight to gut these programs.
What we have is a structural revenue deficit that has been masked in recent years by a booming economy, and that’s something, sadly, I don’t have faith will be addressed by either candidate. But when it comes to spending priorities, I have total trust in Gov. Gregoire.