Cost-effective options for Washington's budget | Guest column

Much has been written about the budget shortfall that Gov. Chris Gregoire and state lawmakers are grappling with in Olympia this legislative session. Everyone’s familiar with the situation at this point: The cooling economy has led to a drop in state revenues, and as a result, we’re several billion dollars short of being able to balance the budget.

The governor, Senate and House have now each offered proposals that rely on deep cuts to avoid deficit spending. The biggest consequence of these proposed cuts — which hasn’t been emphasized enough — will be the loss of some 7,000 jobs in state government. If nothing changes, and this budget goes through, our state’s economy will get brutally slammed again… at a time when we can least afford it.

Imagine hearing tomorrow that Boeing or Microsoft have decided to lay off 7,000 skilled workers. That’s the equivalent of what we’re about to do with the budget that's currently on the table. We’re about to take away jobs, jobs that can’t be recreated by the private sector, at least not right away. Even those lucky enough to find new jobs will be squeezed because a new job is not equal to a lost job. Think about it: If you’ve worked somewhere for a while, your pay and benefits have probably gone up, not down, allowing you to afford to move into a bigger dwelling, finance your children’s college education, or get a new car.

Our budget doesn’t have to be a jobs killer. We have another choice: Raise state revenue and save many or all of those 7,000 threatened jobs, which would keep money in our economy.

Let’s not forget that our government belongs to us, the people of Washington state. We are our government. The budget our elected leaders ultimately agree on will be a reflection of our values. President Barack Obama has described the federal budget as a “moral document.” Our state’s budget is no less meaningful. But every version that’s been proposed so far is an embarrassment.

What does it say about us that we’re thinking of slashing funding for our universities by as much as a fifth? What does it say about us that we’re preparing to gut stipends for mentally ill Washingtonians? What does it say about us that we’re on the verge of putting 7,000 more of our fellow citizens out of work?

It says that we — through our representatives — lack the courage to protect our common wealth.

Our common wealth is our greatest asset. It’s a foundation for economic prosperity, a safety net for those who need a helping hand, a bulwark guaranteeing freedom and opportunity. In the past, we have relied heavily on our common wealth to get us through hard times.

Our state is a great place to live because we, like the United States as a whole, have a rich tradition of pooling our resources together. That’s what taxes are all about.

Have we now forgotten that we are much, much stronger collectively than we are individually?

By investing our tax dollars into schools, colleges, transit, roads, parks, first responders, hospitals, libraries, and care for our most vulnerable citizens, we are investing in ourselves. None of us use all the services government provides, but all of us use some of them. Think for a moment about the services you rely on. Would you be happy if they were suddenly cut back or eliminated entirely next week?

If you were a lawmaker, and you had to choose between an “all cuts” budget and a responsible budget that raises revenue, thereby saving jobs and sparing public services from devastation… which budget would you vote for?

Your answer may be important than you think. State legislators, unable to democratically raise taxes by majority vote due to an initiative which passed in 2007 (and is likely unconstitutional), may soon be putting the matter in your hands and mine by referring a revenue package to the people.

If that happens, will we have the courage to look forward, to think of each other and not just our own pocketbooks, to appreciate the cost effectiveness of paying a little more in taxes and getting a far greater return?

I hope the answer is yes.

Andrew Villeneuve, a 2005 Redmond High graduate, is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, a Redmond-based grass-roots organization. Villeneuve can be reached at andrew@nwprogressive.org.

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