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Originally published November 20, 2009 at 2:59 PM | Page modified November 20, 2009 at 5:01 PM

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An urgent need for action on the state's budget

State revenue projections are grim. All the more reason for state political leaders to act quickly and decisively to trim the budget gap.

THE drop in projected state revenue since the adoption of the two-year budget last spring is now more than 7 percent. This calls for urgent action on the part of Gov. Chris Gregoire.

The Legislature convenes in January to consider the supplemental budget our Democratic governor will propose in December. Knowing legislators, we expect they will fuss and fiddle, and decide nothing until the next revenue forecast, Feb. 18. It will not be the wisest thing for them to do, but it is what they generally do. If they act in their usual way, they will finish their list of spending cuts not before the official adjournment on March 11.

That's four more months into the two-year budget period. It is much better to make cuts now, with more than three-quarters of the time ahead of us.

One way to do it is a quick special session. Sen. Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, the Republicans' leader on budget issues, has been calling for this since October. A special session would make sense if the Legislature would stay in focus and act quickly, but Gregoire has said she won't call a special session.

OK, then. She can act on her own.

Quick, decisive action to cut spending has not been Gregoire's trademark in this recession. She has done the right thing, but often slowly. This year she curbed state hiring, equipment purchases and travel.

Exactly what she should do now we do not know. A private corporation would lay people off. The state is not a private corporation, but revenues and expenses have a similar meaning.

The numbers are not good. The $2.4 billion cumulative forecast shortfall from July 1, 2009, to June 30, 2011, seems small compared with the $9 billion shortfall the Legislature faced last spring, but it's not small.

To address the $9 billion shortfall, 33 percent came from federal bailout money, and another 4 percent from the state's rainy-day fund. Part of it came from eliminating cost-of-living increases for state employees. Only 37 percent came from program cuts — a figure that probably will have to be higher this time around.

In January, the Legislature will need to get serious quickly. The governor can help them by doing the same now.

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