As we conclude the 18th day of the 2012 regular session, the lack of legislative urgency to solve the state's billion dollar plus deficit grows more troubling. It's been 92 days since the governor called last December's special session declaring "timely legislative action is needed to secure the State’s fiscal health and address the shortfall in the 2011-2013 operating budget."
Perhaps it is time to revisit the Dec. 5 email Marty Brown, Director of the Office of Financial Management, sent all lawmakers under the subject line, "The urgency of budget action":
Members of the Legislature:
Many of you know that I worked for nearly 20 years as a legislative committee staff member, on caucus staff and in legislative administration. I have worked with most of you and very closely with two Governors as budget director and know how seriously you take your responsibilities. I know that all of us, elected officials and staff, want what is best for the people of Washington. We know that the numbers in the budget represent real people who need services. We also know that we can’t afford all the services we are currently providing right now.
During my time on legislative staff, I worked with members to cut budgets, craft revenue proposals and even helped draft the state lottery during the recession in the early 1980’s. I can’t say I fully understand how gut-wrenching the decisions you have to make are because I have never run for office or faced the voters following these decisions. What you are doing right now is hard. Having helped the Governor with her decisions I have a good idea what is in front of you and it is daunting.
When I served as legislative staff, I always thought after the budget was adopted it was over and done with. I was wrong. Now I’ve spent nearly 15 years in the executive branch and know how hard it can be to implement the decisions made in an adopted budget. Our state government spends about $41 million a day. Every day that goes by, we can’t get that money back. Your state agencies need time to put into effect the policy and budget changes that affect clients and providers all over the state.
Faced with all this, I do want to say that time is of the essence. Many of the savings assumptions in the Governor’s proposals are based upon January implementation dates. If we go to February or later our assumed savings drop and other more difficult decisions need to be made. I intended to make some of these points in my testimony earlier this week but circumstances prevented it.
My staff and I are always available to help if needed. Thank you for your service in these very difficult times.
Perhaps Gov. Chris Gregoire should provide lawmakers extra incentive for solving the budget deficit in a timely manner by issuing an executive order with date-certain across-the-board cuts absent legislative action to help ensure this problem does not drag out till the last possible moment for action.
Short of this type of consequence hanging over lawmakers’ heads, the only thing that may save us from multiple special sessions is the prospect of the state's fundraising freeze while the Legislature is in session and the impact that would have on lawmakers' 2012 election plans.
If nothing else, the lack of budget urgency displayed by the Legislature to date epitomizes the need for the governor to have discretionary budget cutting authority, so that surgical reductions can be made to enact timely savings.
This story originally appeared on the Washington Policy Center's Washington Policy Blog and is reprinted with permission.