A half-penny wise? | Editorial

As the Washington state Legislature struggles to find a way to fill a $750 million dollar gap in the coming biennium budget, we must consider stark choices. The state has cut a good deal already. But it is not enough. Governor Chris Gregoire, unencumbered by a political campaign for reelection, has taken the unpopular step of proposing a temporary half percent sales tax increase to make up $500 million of the shortfall. Gregoire hopes lawmakers will approve a referendum for the March ballot. If approved, the tax would expire after three years. It would be directed toward education, with smaller amounts for public safety and social services.

The governor’s proposal came after she outlined more than 160 proposed budget cuts to fill the $750 million dollar shortfall. The cuts included eliminating state-subsidized health insurance for the working poor; reducing the K-12 school year by four days; and allowing early release of prisoners who are at low to moderate risk of reoffending. If the tax increase is approved, some of these monies would be restored.

Cue the screaming now. No new taxes! More taxes will hurt working families and stall economic growth! But let’s look at the numbers. Spending per household in Washington state is about $25,000. A half penny tax increase would mean another $125 in tax paid per household. Unacceptable? Maybe. Does the state need to cut more first before such an increase becomes palatable? Yes. But changes need to be made soon.

Let’s consider the consequences of more cuts to education. Some states have already cut the school week to four days instead of five or have shortened the school year. Do we want to go down that road? Colleges have also taken a huge hit, pushing a 44 percent increase in tuition costs on to state families here. More out-ofstate and international students, recruited for their non-resident tuition dollars, are taking the place of in-state students.

Clearly we need to see more savings before we vote. But we need to remain open to do what it takes to keep kids in school, children insured and bad guys in jail.


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