Alexander Pope, in his 1734 poem “An Essay on Man” notes that “Hope springs eternal.” In other words, people will continue to hope, even though they have evidence that things cannot or likely won’t turn out the way they want.
That’s a pretty good description of how we feel about the state Legislature when it comes to the annual circus that is producing a state budget. It seems as though every year, legislators — after much wailing and gnashing of teeth — struggle until the last possible moment to complete a budget, their most important task, sometimes even going into special session to complete that task.
This year, for a number of reasons, we’re somewhat hopeful lawmakers will do a better job of leading with the budget instead of behaving like a student who waits until the night before the due date to begin writing that all-important term paper.
We’re also guardedly optimistic that it won’t ultimately turn out to be business as usual in terms of revenue enhancements, which is Olympia speak for higher taxes and fees, when it comes to the state budget.
The odds are at least a little bit better this year that the Legislature will prioritize spending and keep it in line with actual revenues, rather than reflexively hitting up taxpayers for more money.
Here’s why we think the Legislature could get the budget done within the confines of the regular legislative session without any general tax increases:
• This being an odd year, the 2013 regular legislative session runs 105 days, from Jan. 14 through April 28. That’s opposed to even-numbered years in which the regular legislative session is 60 days.
Translation: The Legislature has more time to work on producing a sustainable budget.
• It looks like Republicans will be chairing several committees in the Senate, including the budget, which is likely to mean more resistance to tax hikes.
That’s because two senators, both Democrats, have decided to caucus with the opposing party, handing control to Republicans.
State Sens. Rodney Tom, D-Bellevue, and Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, announced last month that they would caucus with Senate Republicans, flipping the chamber’s 26-23 Democrat majority to a 25-24 Republican coalition majority.
• In November, voters once again approved a measure to require either two-thirds legislative approval or a vote by the people to raise taxes, this time in the form of Initiative 1185.
• While it might be advisable to take what a politician says with a grain of salt, Democrat Gov.-elect Jay Inslee has indicated his belief in and intention to use lean management techniques to make state government more efficient.
“There is no reason on this green Earth that we have not embraced the efficiency measures in state government that have been so successful in private enterprise,” Inslee said in a debate last fall with his Republican gubernatorial opponent, state Attorney General Rob McKenna.
At the very least, we think it’s a good sign that Inslee has included Gary Kaplan, chief executive at the Virginia Mason Health System and a pioneer in “lean” management, as a member of his transition committee.
Sure, we hope all of these factors will come into play to produce a timely, prioritized and tax-free state budget, but we’re not naive. After all, this is state-level politics.
It’s all too possible that lawmakers will fall back on any number of bad budget habits, including the raiding of dedicated accounts, the introduction of “ghost” bills (legislation with titles but little or no actual text), de facto insider hearings due to little or no public notice, pushing certain payments off into the first day of the next biennium, calling smaller planned increases budget “cuts,” and so on and so forth.
At the risk of being disappointed, we’re going to remain optimistic — for now — about the prospect of an on-time and well-thought-out state budget with no new general taxes.
Here’s hoping it turns out there won’t be a need for a special session.