July 3, 2008 · Updated 12:57 PM
"Combining budgets and politics is kind of like mixing smoke and mirrors. It's hard to know for sure what's really going on.There have been plenty of cries from governmental agencies all across Washington state about dwindling budgets ever since Initiative 695 was passed by voters a year ago. Local governments are not immune to a few yelps of their own. City of Oak Harbor officials say potentially severe financial troubles loom on the horizon. Island County department heads say they need $1 million more over the next year to operate effectively, but the county ledgers actually look to be $500,000 in arrears from a year ago due to 695.State government, meanwhile, has cobbled together funding to keep the ferries afloat for another year, but officials say the system will soon run bone dry if new funding sources aren't found. Again, 695 is the culprit.In the background, of course, are year 2000 political races. Candidates want to get elected. There's talk about fiscal responsibility and doing more with less and spending the public's money wisely. There's polling to see which message proves most palatable to the electorate, and there's spoon feeding of these soothing poll-tested messages.Meanwhile we creep along toward another fiscal year. We wait for the courts to offer a final ruling on the constitutionality of 695. And we weigh whether or not we actually will lose valued government services, or if the politicians are just crying wolf.Campaigns are a poor time of year to evaluate the plain truth. One candidate says tomato, the other says tomawto. There's spin from every angle. So let's just concede that we won't get a clear picture of our government finances until the election is over. But when the smoke clears, it's time for truth telling.More than ever before, the public needs some straight talk from politicians at every level of government in this state about our city, county and state budgets. There are reasons to believe that the warnings about funding shortfalls are genuine. The simple beauty of I-695 - that it saved a bunch of taxpayers a bunch of money - means there's less money in state coffers and less cash trickling down from the state to the counties and cities. That's just math.But it's time to stop the teeth gnashing. If we're going broke, tell us. If we can make do, let us know. Don't make it sound better or worse than it is. If a 6 percent property tax hike is needed to keep basic services alive, then stand up and say so. If we can survive with a 3 percent raise, or no raise, then don't ask for more.Let's use the upcoming budget proceedings for Island County, the City of Oak Harbor and the Town of Coupeville as a time to lay out the facts. Let's use the next session of the Washington state Legislature to get our financial house in order.It's time for straight talk and honest action. "