Some of you didn't like yesterday's income tax idea. Too sour grapesy. Too impossible to pull off. Fine.

Here's a different idea—also difficult to pull off, but also useful in pointing out how any discussion of fixing our state's massive budget shortfall now takes place in a realm far, far away from the big, interesting, politically risky ideas that might actually change the fundamental dynamics that got us into this mess.

Today's idea:

Legalize marijuana, tax it, and use the proceeds to fund state services.

If you don't think any legislators will ever touch this idea, think again. Most won't, but some will. The link above is to House Bill 2401, proposed last session by ten state legislators who were... aiming to legalize and tax pot. Their bill didn't get very far in Olympia, but it did get far enough to generate a fiscal note. That's an official state estimate of how much revenue a particular measure might generate, and in this case the fiscal note is quite interesting.

By our state's own estimates, if we'd begun legalizing and taxing marijuana as HB 2401 proposed, we'd now be poised to bring in more than $380 million over the next two-year funding cycle.

That's more than enough to save...

...Basic Health, which serves 66,000 low income Washingtonians, would cost the state $230 million to keep going over the next two-year funding cycle, and is currently set to be cut entirely in Governor Christine Gregoire's proposed budget. Alternatively, the estimated revenue from pot taxes is more than enough to save the Disability Lifeline, which serves 28,000 people in this state who are temporarily unable to work, would cost $327 million to keep operating over the next two-year funding cycle, and is also set to be cut entirely in Gregoire's budget.

Yes, true: Legalizing and taxing marijuana wouldn't erase the entire $4.6 billion shortfall. Not by a long shot.

But it could ease the pain quite a bit.