State budget: Cloudy with a dose of pain

Just a few weeks after she won re-election, Gov. Chris Gregoire now faces about a $5 billion state budget shortfall.

“Ouch” is now a four-letter word.

State revenue forecasters Wednesday released data that estimates state tax revenue will fall by an additional $1.9 billion below projections. That’s on top of the $3.2 billion shortfall everyone already knew about.

Our state is not immune from the national economic downtown. The Associated Press reported that Oregon is facing an immediate $140 million shortfall that may force the governor there to order across-the-board cuts in state agency spending.

In addition, a new revenue forecast in Oregon predicts that the state will be more than $1 billion short of the amount needed to maintain current services through 2011.

But back to us. The impact here will be painful. Very painful. By law, the state must balance its budget. No fancy fiddling, like Congress does with the national numbers. And the state can’t put it on a Visa card, either.

What will happen is cuts. Lots of cuts. One already faces our state’s community and technical colleges. A report says they face a $600 million overall cut. That’s about 20 percent of their spending.

It shouldn’t come to that, and likely won’t. But there’s no doubt that many difficult decisions are going to be made by the Legislature and governor. A $5 billion shortfall means life as we know it no longer exists. It means that some state programs, state workers and state projects will be eliminated.

There’s no real way to tweak our way out of this. While tax revenue is falling, needs are increasing. More people are out of work and need state services. More students are in school and must be educated. No proposed solution will be popular. All of them will hurt some groups — maybe most — hard.

The time has come for the state to wring every penny out of its operations and then squeeze those pennies some more. We’re all going to have to absorb some pain to make the next budget work. Grab the aspirin bottle.

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