If it wasn't already clear that the state's "Rainy Day Fund" was just symbolic political pandering by Democrats (who remain desperate to convince voters they are fiscally conservative), it's clear now.
The Democrats aren't taking the fund seriously. It's not that they're spending it, it's that—to keep the political cover it provides—they're not spending it, even when they're supposed to. What a waste of money.
The fund—about $430 million right now and sucking up about $130 million a year—was supposedly created to cover our asses if there's an economic downturn or a natural disaster such as an earthquake or a flood (literally, a rainy day).
Well, literally, we had a flood late last year that caused an estimated $1 billion in damage in places like rural Lewis County. Rather than tapping the aptly named Rainy Day Fund, however, Democratic governor Christine Gregoire has earmarked $77.5 million from the regular budget to deal with the flood, including $15 million to help local governments and $10 million from the state's housing trust fund.
The fact that Gregoire is taking money from the housing trust fund to deal with the flood, rather than using the money that was supposedly set aside to deal with natural disasters, offers a perfect example of how her pandering has an unfortunate impact on policy—sucking money away from where it's needed.
Given the subprime lending crisis, condo conversions, and the iffy economy, low-income housing subsidies are crucial right now. Housing advocates estimate there are 250,000 families in Washington State who are in danger of becoming homeless—paying more than an affordable 30 percent of their income on rent and so having to choose between rent, food, and health care.
House Democratic Speaker Frank Chopp (D-43, Wallingford) recognizes this and is fighting to increase the money in the housing trust fund this year from $130 million to $230 million. However, the governor and the Democratic senate majority leader say we don't have the money.
Huh? If the governor is willing to siphon $10 million from the housing trust fund for flood victims, then obviously there's money available there. The problem: Since the governor is scared to tap the Rainy Day Fund for its intended purpose—the housing trust-fund dollars are tied up.
Given that voters have loaded the legislature with Democrats (the party that runs on using the general fund to pay for popular things like health care and housing), you'd think the Democratic Governor would use voter tax dollars to invest in voters' priorities rather than holding onto the money to score points with Republicans who aren't likely to vote for her anyway.
Scared to death of touching the Rainy Day Fund that could cover the victims of the flood, the governor is holding the needs of working families hostage for the sake of keeping the Rainy Day Fund—and her political cover—intact.