News flash: The Republicans are still in control. Yes, the Democrats occupy the governor's mansion and control both chambers in the legislature with lopsided majorities. But the Republicans still control the debate. Or more accurately, the media.
Case in point: A front-page news story in the Sunday, January 7, Seattle Times titled "Governor's Big Spending Plan: Can We Afford It?" took its cue straight from a GOP press release titled "Governor Gregoire's Budget Creates Future Deficits," which blared: "Governor Christine Gregoire's budget—the largest in state history at $30 billion—creates future deficits and unfunded promises by expanding state spending. Now is not the time to go on a spending splurge."
Although the Seattle Times likes the priorities of Governor Gregoire's spending splurge—$400 million extra on education and $31 million on health care for low-income children—they mimic the GOP and accuse Gregoire of "embarking on a $4 billion spending spree" and let a recycled Republican theme frame the lead paragraphs: "Her budget is unsustainable and likely would lead to tax increases in the future."
Unsustainable? The only thing that's unsustainable is making public-policy choices based on the Republican lie that government spending is ballooning. The more the press continues to peddle that point on behalf of Republicans, the harder it's going to be to sustain the critical services, like health care and education, that government is expected to provide.
First, the GOP lie. Gregoire is not expanding government. A study by the Washington State Budget & Policy Center released last month puts Gregoire's $30 billion budget in perspective. Her budget is actually smaller, as a percentage of Washington's economy, than the six previous state budgets.
And, though you'd never know it, shrinking government is a bad thing. As our economy grows, government needs to provide more infrastructure for the expanding private sector and the needs of its workforce.
Unfortunately, there's a structural deficit in our state's budget: Olympia cannot continue to provide services like health care and education at the current level in future budget cycles. However, the problem isn't expanded programs. The problem is decreased revenues.
Thanks to the dominance of the GOP's tax-cutting philosophy that has dominated public policy in Olympia for the past decade (B&O tax reductions, high-tech tax loopholes, and Tim Eyman's I-747 tax cap), state revenues are already an estimated $2.2 billion short for the 2009–2011 budget. Indeed, we cut state revenues by 8 percent in the 1994–2001 GOP era, putting Washington State in the top third of all states in terms of slashing taxes during that time.
So, while the Seattle Times and the GOP cry that Gregoire's budget is "unsustainable," I'd like to scream that it's unsustainable to drive our economy with a half a tank of gas.