EDITORIAL: State's incapable of cutting back

From the perspective of those involved in private business, it’s madding that state government seems incapable of cutting costs. Yes, it’s painful, but in the business world it’s necessary and unavoidable if revenues don’t keep up with expenses. You just do it.

Look at Boeing. The Northwest’s signature company laid off 30,000 employees when airplane orders slacked off. If the state built airplanes, would it lay off employees? No, not with all those votes at stake. It would instead put twice as many workers on each remaining airplane, saying it was improving efficiency. When the bottom line showed the fallacy of that argument, there would be no choice but to raise taxes. Then everybody could pay workers not to build airplanes.

Legislators meet with rabid resistance even when relatively painless cuts are proposed. Last week, the Senate suggested eliminating three non-teaching days from education. Three days lost per year? It sure beats throwing sick old people out of nursing homes. And we can think of 30,000 Boeing workers who would love to get all but three days of their jobs back. But the teachers’ union, the Washington Education Association, responded with both barrels blazing. The WEA claimed cutting the three days would be unconstitutional; that cutting them would require a two-thirds vote; that the cuts would jeopardize bargaining agreements throughout the state; and that, if the three days were cut, the WEA would go to court to stop it from happening. Don’t expect this Senate idea to become reality.

Meanwhile, cut-phobic legislators are so desperate to find more money that the Democrats plan to sell off billions of future dollars from the settlement legally extorted from the tobacco companies. They’re eating the seed corn, so to speak. As of Monday, it looked like the scheme would be approved because nobody has the ability to cut spending.

On top of all this, legislators are battling over a proposal to increase the gasoline tax. The Senate wants the tax approved without a vote of the people, while the House is holding out for a vote.

If the gas increase is truly necessary, as it likely is, they’d better not present it to the votes. After watching this year’s gutless Washington State Legislature, who would want to help them out by voting yes?

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