Originally published Tuesday, August 9, 2011 at 4:13 PM

Gov. Gregoire's prudence on budget is justified

The Seattle Times editorial board supports Gov. Chris Gregoire's call for state agencies to plan for 5 percent and 10 percent budget cuts.

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GOV. Chris Gregoire's order to state agencies to prepare possible 5 percent and 10 percent cuts is justified. In responding to a downturn, speed is essential.

The intention is not to cut 10 percent out of all general fund spending, which would be $1.7 billion. "No way can I get $163 million out of corrections," said her budget director, Marty Brown, speaking about the state prisons. Nor can the entire amount be cut from any one thing.

But it looks as if cuts will have to be made, possibly in a special session of the Legislature as early as six weeks from now. The alternative, across-the-board cuts by executive order, is too blunt an instrument.

Legislators will not want to come back. The session in the spring was bloody — but also successful. It was an honest budget, with fewer gimmicks than in earlier years. And in the Senate it was done with the cooperation of both parties. If legislators come back, they should do it that way because it is the way that works.

Any tax increase would take two-thirds of the legislators or a referral to the people. The two-thirds is unlikely. Probably the people would vote down any general increases in state sales, property or business-revenue taxes, but they might go for closing some exemptions.

All depends on the Sept. 15 revenue forecast. Speculation has it that the number will be down at least $500 million, but nobody knows. Part of it depends on the stock market.

Monday, the market felt like recession; Tuesday, not. If people are fearful, sales-tax collections will fall and the revenue forecast will be pushed downward. If stocks rebound, the fear will abate.

In any case, it is good that the state begin preparing for cuts. Three years ago, in September 2008, it was different. Wall Street was in a crisis. Gregoire visited The Times with her budget director and presented budget numbers developed the previous month, as if the bonfire outside the state had no heat.

She had been lucky with the economy. She was also running for re-election and not wanting to bring a message of gloom.

Whatever the reason, this time her response to bad news is much quicker, and the state is the better for it.


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