Opinion

Sound off: State lawmakers must pass a no-new-taxes budget

By State Rep. Barbara Bailey

As I sit down to write you, state lawmakers are determining their budget proposals. The challenge is addressing an unprecedented $9 billion shortfall before the end of the legislative session on April 26.

Many people are wondering how our state got into such a deep hole. While a struggling economy has contributed to the problem, the majority party has increased state spending by $8 billion, or 33 percent, the last four years. This is not to assign blame, but to understand the origins of the problem.

A fact often lost in the debate is our state will likely have more tax collections for its next budget compared to its current one. This means, despite our economic woes, our state may have more to spend in its 2009-11 budget. When we consider this information with the size of the budget shortfall, it’s clear our state has a spending problem.

State lawmakers must decide if they want to streamline state government or raise taxes – or a combination of both. Despite what you may hear, our state can – and must – pass a budget that does not raise taxes on families and employers. When declining consumer spending is hurting tax collections, taking more money out of the pockets of hard-working people would only intensify our economic challenges. 
This is why I support a no-new-taxes budget. Such an approach would require restructuring state government, and our state has never had a better opportunity to look inward, identify savings and pursue improvements. This is absolutely vital for our state’s finances and economy.

Restructuring state government begins by establishing priorities, which I see as K-12 education, public safety and the protection of our most vulnerable citizens. State lawmakers should fully fund the programs and services that support these priorities, then have a healthy debate with what to do with remaining tax collections.

What must be avoided is a loose-threaded, patchwork budget that relies on one-time federal dollars, fund transfers and creative accounting. I also fear the majority party wants to increase taxes through the initiative or referendum processes. Both approaches would display a lack of leadership at a time when our state so desperately needs it. Avoiding necessary decisions would only push our budget problem down the road, and voters deserve more from their state lawmakers.

As I advocate for a no-new-taxes budget that restructures and prioritizes state government, I’m also working with my House Republican colleagues to fundamentally improve the budget process. Our legislative package, if passed, would ensure budget sustainability, transparency and accountability in the future. The goal is to prevent the current budget problem from ever happening again.

For example, I’m sponsoring a measure that would require the state to put more money into its rainy day fund during good economic times. If we had done this a few years ago, our budget problem would be much smaller today. I’m also supporting legislation that would require the Legislature to adopt a balanced budget, establish a state spending limit, ensure that the costs of proposed legislation are known before votes are taken on them, and give more time for state lawmakers and the public to review budgets prior to them being put to a vote.

These proposals are rooted in common sense and fairness to taxpayers, and their principles are similar to what responsible families and employers are doing. The bottom line is we need a budget that is sustainable, transparent and able to weather economic storms. And state lawmakers should be held accountable for these outcomes.

State Representative Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, is assistant ranking Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee.

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