We finally have a state budget, one that took two special sessions and one regular session to reach an agreement. Except we don't really have a proper budget.
Going back to last summer, the leadership in Olympia knew we had a budget problem, but we didn't get across the finish line until they started to realize that dragging the budget efforts into a third special session would get the voting public upset. So why did it take so long?
First, we had a lame duck Governor who had little or no leverage in bringing the two parties to the table. (Lord knows she tried, but we call it lame duck for a reason.) Then the Republican Senate went rogue when it recruited three members of the Democratic Party and announced a budget without informing the governor. This behavior does not produce the best results for our state or lead to long term problem solving. In most cases, it simply pushes the problem to the next session where we will go through this exercise all over again.
So we're left with two parties who find it harder and harder to work together and to find compromise until the gun is finally held to their head. We cannot allow this political behavior to go unnoticed, as if this is all we should expect out of our state elected officials in Olympia. The budget is their first and most important task. It should take priority over all else and should get done on time.
Big problems require leaders who know what to do and then go out and do it. So how do we get that for our state?
I believe strongly that there is a key missing ingredient — a shared vision of our future that guides our budget priorities. We should start with a long-term vision for our state, one that addresses the massive systemic issues that we face like schools, transportation, and more. The vision should include a strategic plan that can be sustained financially and supported by the people of the state of Washington.
At the end of this exercise, we should have a shared understanding of where this state wants to go in the next ten years and how we might get there. (I cannot imagine successful companies like Boeing and Microsoft not having a long range plan and a projected budget to support that plan, so why should we expect less of our state?) A plan means someone is held accountable for getting it accomplished, something we need to require of our elected officials.
Without a vision and a plan for the future we will continue to come up with short term fixes that kick the problem down the street or to the other party for someone else to solve. We cannot continue to solve problems in two-year segments, using an ineffective, politicized budget process to try to have the important discussions and to find common ground about our future.
Today, not tomorrow, we must begin developing a ten-year strategic plan that lays out the Vision for Washington's Future. A plan that encourages economic growth, invests in our schools and infrastructure, and protects the most vulnerable. Then and only then will we have a set of goals and priorities that will guide our budget decisions and give the state legislature the opportunity to rise to the challenge and produce their best work — the kind of work we elected them for.