The Columbian has a bold strategy to plug the horrible budget hole without the hassle of raising taxes or cutting programs that people depend on. Magic? No, silly. Reform. But without getting very specific or putting a price tag on it.
This special session was necessitated by a projected $2 billion revenue shortfall. Many lawmakers talk about dealing with this only by various combinations of spending cuts or revenue increases. Again, though, state Sen. Joe Zarelli of Ridgefield, the Republican leader on the Senate Ways and Means Committee, is advocating a third tactic that never seems to draw the attention it deserves: reform.
Oh. Reform. Of course. If we do things better then things will be better.
And Washingtonians have to wonder why reform never carries more clout in these agonizing budget discussions. After all, the concept of reform is largely (though far from totally) nonpartisan. Reform means simply changing the way government does its business, maximizing efficiencies. While conservatives advocate budget cuts and liberals insist on boosting revenue, both sides ought to agree that a bigger bang for the taxpayers’ buck would be a good thing.
It couldn’t be that there isn’t much money in the so-called reforms. That will require the rest of the article to mention some of the ones that will have the most “bang for the taxpayers’ buck” and really delve into them. How they effect the programs, how they effect the workers tasked with implementing them. That sort of thing. Or I guess quote one state senator.
Even with the limited attention given to reform, Zarelli points to steps already taken by legislators in that direction: “more choice for injured workers, a refocusing of the Basic Health Plan and disability lifeline, and clamping down on fraud and abuse involving food and cash assistance to low-income people,” all accomplished with bipartisan support.
You guys, all we have to do is cut the fraud and abuse budgets! Also, if we make Workers’ Comp and Basic Health less effective, it’s not a cut, it’s reform. Anyway, you know what would make this article the best ever? More vague suggestions from the same person without any attempt to see what they would do to state services and state workers let alone how much they might save or cost.
Surely, that cannot be the end of what can be done. In his article for The Herald, Zarelli advocated focusing on “long-term obligations that are huge cost drivers, such as state-worker pensions, health-care services, paying off the state’s debt and efforts to bring our K-12 education system into compliance with court rulings” plus at least having discussions about “services for non-citizens, state liability, non-Indian gaming, state workplace efficiencies such as competitive contracting and defined-contribution pensions, and how the state subsidizes low-income child care.”
Almost all of those things will cost money, or are cuts (except expanding gambling). This article promised something other than “combinations of spending cuts or revenue increases” and yet pay down debt is on the list? How do you expect to pay down debt without raising taxes or cutting spending?* Hopefully the next paragraph will answer some of those questions instead of being a whiny nonsense metaphor.
The reform menu keeps getting longer, doesn’t it? Why, then, are legislators so reluctant to place their orders?
It’s because most of those reforms are bad ideas, cuts by another name, or bland generalities. While some of them may be part of the solution, this article doesn’t make the case for any of them, and certainly doesn’t weigh the pros and cons. The legislature is trying to solve a $2 Billion budget gap, and the Columbian is proposing gimmickry and trickery while demanding we take them more seriously.
* Yes, grow the economy. Paying down debts in times of a bad economy is probably not the way to grow the economy.