Terry Corbell, The Biz Coach
By Terry Corbell
Business Consultant

Washington Needs Soul-Searching in Public Policy, Budgeting – and Action

 

Sept. 16, 2010

So now we have further confirmation that Washington state is long overdue in launching a prudent approach to public policy and budgeting. Officially, the state forecasts another $1.4 billion shortfall until June, 2013. That means red ink totaling at least $4.5 billion.

“The governor has already responded to this forecast by authorizing across-the-board cuts, but that simply isn’t the most thoughtful approach available,” said state Sen. Joseph Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, in a press release.

“On one hand she says she wants the next state budget to reflect the priorities of government and Washington values; on the other hand she has ordered cuts to the current budget that allow little if any consideration for priorities and values,” he added.

Sen. Zarelli also raised the salient question:

“What sense does it make to cut services for our most vulnerable citizens by the same percentage as the state’s efforts to promote tourism?”

His suggested alternative to across-the-board cuts?

“It would be better for the Legislature to convene for a short special session, because we can do things the governor can’t. We can make policy and structural changes that would focus the available revenue on the most essential services, and leave enough in reserve to get the state through June, when the biennium ends. We can also adopt reforms that would help when it’s time to write the 2009-11 budget,” wrote Sen. Zarelli.

To more than 50,000 state workers, he e-mailed this request:

“We hope you will take the time, either at work or at home, to submit your savings ideas here. Your ideas will be routed directly to us.”

How does the Office of Financial Management explain the budget shortfall?

“Revenue for the current budget period, 2009-11, is projected to decrease $770 million, resulting in total projected General Fund revenue for the biennium of $28.5 billion. Revenue for the next budget period, 2011-13, is projected to decrease $669 million, resulting in total projected General Fund revenue for that biennium of $33.4 billion.

‘With this drop in revenue, our current budget is now projected to be in the red,’ said Marty Brown, director of OFM. ‘We will enact cuts to address this problem while we look for ways to transform the budget and address shortfalls for the next budget period.’

The forecast projects an ending fund deficit for 2009-11 of $516 million, which includes $4 million in the rainy-day fund.”

Ouch, but it’s not surprising news. As a business-performance consultant, the state’s dubious policymaking and budgeting have been frequent topics here.

What is shocking has been the state’s lack of transparency in budgeting and that many elected officials — excluding State Auditor Brian Sonntag — have been late to the solution process and have not solved these predicted and lingering problems. That’s inadvisable public policy and budgeting.

“Despite still projecting revenue growth of nearly $5 billion between 2009-11 and 2011-13, a budget shortfall exceeding $4.5 billion is projected for the next budget due to a structural spending imbalance and the carry forward costs of programs in the current budget,” said Jason Mercier, the director of the Center for Government Reform at the Washington Policy Center.

“This budget crisis makes it imperative for legislative leaders to bring lawmakers back to Olympia to solve this problem in a thoughtful way,” said Mr. Mercier. “Failing to do their job until the 2011 session convenes in January would be the ultimate abdication of their legislative responsibility to balance the budget.

“If lawmakers continue to refuse to balance the budget they should at least call a short special session to change state law to allow the Governor to make discretionary and rational cuts while leaving up to a one percent reserve,” Mr. Mercier concluded.

Well said, as usual. Actually, Mr. Mercier and Sen. Zarelli have long expressed their public policy and budgetary concerns.

Since 2001, The Biz Coach column, at three Seattle media Web sites, has warned that Washington state’s economy has been too valuable and/or too-fragile to gamble with costly unknowns.

This Web site was launched July 29, 2009. You’ll find countless archived Biz Coach public policy columns with warnings and solutions including, the initial column, Analysis: Steps for Economic Success in Washington State. Not to be gauche, the column’s ideas are valid today. It’s past time to reboot – before it’s too late.

From the Coach’s Corner, for more background information and sound ideas, here are four resource links:

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Seattle business consultant Terry Corbell provides high-performance management services and strategies.