Bills begin to cook and sweeping becomes the nature of things

March 2nd, 2011 by Ken

By Jan Teague,   President, CEO of the Washington Retail Association

House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt told business leaders this week that he expect legislators to finish the 2011 session on time and that budget talks have formed into a general strategy.

Democrats plan to push the budget cycle out one month which will gain $1.5 billion for a 25-month budget cycle.  This will put off shortfalls to another budget cycle when legislators hope state revenues improve.

Legislators plan to pass a half billion dollars in new fees and keeping some form of basic health insurance by working with the federal government to get funding.

This does not cover the entire shortfall , but as legislators formulate what a true shortfall is to make ends meet, they will likely put off obligations to pensions and simply not pay for promises  such as cost of living increases.  This approach will help keep teacher and government jobs for now, even it if means no cost-of-living increases in the short term.  Debate is still going on over step increases that occur for time on the job.

Sweeping taxes and fees authorized for one purpose is now a problem for legislators.  They don’t know how to do without the money, so they keep doing it.  Last year a tobacco tax was passed for education but was swept into the general fund.

The state doesn’t have a capital fund to spend this year because it too was swept into the general fund last session.   Talk continues that legislators will wait until the capital fund rebuilds before they do any more major projects.

That might take a while as the desire to sweep the fund again will be strong if the economy continues to lag below the state’s revenue projections.

In essence, the public policy business of the legislature has been turned upside down.  There is no guarantee that the decisions of the legislative body will have long term meanings.  Bills get passed one year.   Then the whole justification of the need for the fee or the tax is meaningless as the money is used next year  for something else.

Certainly, as the Great Recession drags on, the challenge ahead for legislators  will be their credibility, as one year they vote for a fee for some reason, and the next year they vote to use it for something else.

This article appear in the March 3 edition of the WIN.

Posted in Business, Government, Informational, The Real News

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