Governor may be heading toward a budget disaster

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  • Monday, March 3, 2008 11:57am

Gov. Christine Gregoire had an opportunity to debunk a stereotype: the “tax-and-spend Democrat.”

In the governor’s case, she may be flipping that around to be a “spend-and-tax” Democrat, but if the more cautionary voices in Olympia turn out to be right, voters likely won’t care about the nuance.

Gregoire wants the state, flush with cash from a rebounding economy, to raise state spending to an all-time high, nearly $30 billion for the 2007-09 biennium. That’s an increase of more than 10 percent over the previous two-year budget and is in line with a 10-year trend of increases averaging 9 percent.

Gregoire’s budget would add approximately 3,800 jobs and commit the state to other ongoing spending patterns that would be difficult to continue and painful to undo if the state economy continues its other pattern: cyclical rises and falls.

Gregoire says that if the state doesn’t make hay, or spend, while the sun is shining, shame on us for not taking advantage of the warm rays of prosperity. While that may be true, it is also prudent to not commit to a plan that assures the bills will keep coming when it is less certain the income will continue.

Signing up new workers, new pay scales and ongoing programs for such basic needs as health care, all laudable goals, without a sense of sustainability, is a recipe for which Republicans could find tasty in the next round of elections. Even her own department’s analysis shows 2009 with a possible gaping deficit.

Speaking of politics, while her predecessor, Gary Locke, never proposed a budget he wasn’t willing to barter away, Gregoire has left her party compatriots little room to make their own hay. Could they possibly spend more and be seen as even remotely fiscally responsible? Or try to grab the brakes and be seen as trying to slow this train of Democratic power?

Only time will tell if we’re in for a great ride or headed for a wreck of epic proportions.

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