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WA Legislature, Week 4: It's a Numbers Game

February 2, 2009

Olympia, WA – Week Four of the state legislative session begins today. Although more than 600 bills are under consideration, most of the discussion in Olympia to date has been about which programs and services to cut in order to make up a budget shortfall of at least $6 billion. Some say that focus postpones tackling a bigger problem: deciding how the state can increase its income.

The League of Women Voters of Washington is following the action. League members suggest that instead of cutting services to balance the budget, legislators should be looking for ways to make more money.

League Action chair Barbara Bush says one reason the state is in trouble is that it relies too heavily on the sales tax, which contributes more than 50 percent of tax revenue.

"We need a more balanced system of taxation in this state. At some point, we say, the legislators are just going to have to come to tax reform."

Lawmakers are taking the budget crisis seriously, she says, but about half of the $31-billion, two-year state budget is protected by the state constitution for basics like education, so any cuts have to come from the other half.

"That means all these cuts must be made in about $15 billion. That's a huge amount to take out of programs – more than 30 percent."

The federal government will be handing out more money, but much of it will have to be spent on specific programs, such as the $15 million Washington will get to fund children's health insurance. While some legislators are eyeing tax loopholes or exemptions that could be eliminated to bring in more income, Bush says for now major tax reform does not appear to be a big priority in Olympia.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA