You have to hand it to the Washington State Legislature. After dithering for most of the year without an agreement, the lawmakers were able to find $583 million in budget cuts in just six hours during last weekend’s special session in Olympia.
If only that were enough.
Unfortunately, Washington is looking at a $1.1 billion deficit for the current year and, assuming nothing changes, a $5.5 billion shortfall for the coming biennium.
Democrats, who hold the majority in both state houses, made no secret of their desire last spring to close the gap with tax increases.
The voters, however, were even more emphatic in November’s election that taxes were too high already.
This created quite a conundrum.
In order to balance the budget, as they are supposed to, the Dems can no longer simply write blank checks with our tax dollars.
Rather, they must make real budget cuts — presumably to programs backed by traditional Democratic supporters like the education establishment and public employees unions.
Gov. Gregoire reluctantly conceded as much last week when she proposed to end annual benefit adjustments for state and local government workers, including teachers, in the Plan 1 pensions, which are the most generous the state has.
The plans have been closed to new members in 1977, when someone figured out they weren’t financially sustainable. In the meantime, however, they have piled up a nearly $7 billion in unfunded liability.
Compared to that kind of money, the $583 million the Legislature trimmed last week and the $400 million more it must cut when it reconvenes on Jan. 10 is chicken feed.
But every little bit helps, particularly when the chickens you’re taking it from figure to squawk something awful.