Linking state spending to where taxes are generated is a bad idea
As state lawmakers grapple with the difficulties of cutting the state budget, it is not a good idea to try to make cuts according to a ratio of dollars generated in a certain county compared with those spent there by the state. The idea Balkanizes the state too much.
STATE Rep. Reuven Carlyle urges lawmakers to consider which of Washington's 39 counties pay more in taxes and which receive their fair share back in state spending. King County, as the prime example, generates 42 percent of taxes but receives only 26 percent in state expenditures.
That's an interesting fact, but do not go there. It is no way to run a state.
To be clear, Carlyle is not advocating dollar-for-dollar equity, not by any stretch. But he worries when he sees that the 2011 supplemental budget wiped out money for kindergarten through fourth-grade class-size reduction, which benefits all districts. At the same time, lawmakers fully protected levy equalization, which bolsters property-poor districts that tend to be rural and suburban.
Of course, King County, which has 29 percent of the state's population, produces the highest amount of tax revenues. It has the most people and is the place where numerous businesses are located. But we should never manage government on a pay-as-you-go or a la carte basis. Or attempt to cut the budget in that way.
This is one state, and as the Democrats in Olympia like to say, One Washington.
Carlyle, a Seattle Democrat, is positively eloquent about the need to invest in job-generating industries and institutions, such as the University of Washington, global health and the innovation economy, which tend to be located in King County.
But he must be careful discussing the idea of returning more tax dollars to the counties that generate such taxes.
For many years, King County exported gas-tax dollars for transportation to other places, primarily rural areas, though that formula has been adjusted in recent years to be more equitable.
Carlyle and other lawmakers have every right to bring up the county's largesse when lawmakers from other places rag on the county. But he is off a bubble if he thinks he can rectify the disparity by trying to make cuts in state spending somewhat according to where tax dollars are produced.
Whether he intends it or not, this feeds into emerging bad logic that people only want to pay for the services they use.
Washington has to be one state in good times and bad. In other words, Carlyle can raise his point and then go back to the extremely difficult work of making wise budget decisions that benefit — and in this case, cut — services in all parts of the state.