Gov. Chris Gregoire has built herself a political trap, by running again on a no-new-taxes pledge. This week, she was sticking to that pledge, administering big pain pills in the form of cuts, cuts, and more cuts. The only new "tax" she'd talk about was the need for tolls to be able to build a new floating bridge for SR520.
But will she be able to wriggle out, with a little help from her Democratic friends in the Legislature? Probably so, and here's a possible scenario. First, the governor institutes all kinds of cuts in the current budget, which runs to July, 2009. Howls of pain. Then the Legislature convenes and makes still more cuts, proving its commitment to austerity. (These will be mostly showy cuts, like smiting the UW for its hopes for a new Husky Stadium, or beating up on Seattle — always a popular way to get headlines.) Screams. Around March, the state issues a revised revenue forecast; one insider says the $5 billion shortfall announced this week will probably hit about $6 billion. All the rainy day fund is shifted to help with the deficit.
At this point, we hit the wall. Some of the proposed cuts for the next budget are of the "Close Washington Monument" category, meant to stir up maximum resistance by the citizenry. Huge tuition increases will be threatened, and other fees will go through the roof. This is the point where I would look to Sen. Lisa Brown, leader of the majority Democrats, to float a tax increase (sorry, I meant to say "investment") that will be sweetened by being a sin tax (say on gambling casinos) or a virtue tax (discouraging carbon emissions). The big argument will be that the tax investment will save jobs or prime the economic pump.
Gregoire will say her hand was forced by those spendy legislators, sign the bill, and refer it to the voters. Dino Rossi will go nuts.