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Originally published February 22, 2012 at 5:02 PM | Page modified February 23, 2012 at 4:55 PM

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Washington's House Democrats' budget irresponsibly pushes problems ahead

The Seattle Times editorial board argues that the budget proposal adopted by House Democrats in Olympia bases too much of its savings on gimmicks and not enough on long-term reforms.

Seattle Times Editorial

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TO solve the state's $1.1 billion budget problem, House Democrats had been toying with a fetching idea: Just borrow the money. It was a bad idea, and legislators didn't do it. Instead of taking out a pay-day loan, they are now proposing something akin to floating a check.

The House's proposed budget released Tuesday would delay paying public schools the final $405 million they are due until the next budget period. They would also drain $96 million from the state's financial reserve and claw back a similar amount from cities and counties, inviting them to raise local sales taxes if they like.

These are irresponsible stopgap measures that ignore the urgent need for reform.

None of these measures addresses the long-term problem of a government grown larger than the tax base that supports it. A group of Republicans and moderate Democrats in the Senate have bills that address that problem.

One would make early retirement for state employees less generous. One would stop police and firefighters from boosting their pensions by working overtime in their final year. One would consolidate teacher medical benefits across the state. One would repeal the unfunded mandates of Initiatives 728 and 732.

Together, these would solve only part of the immediate budget problem. But the savings would grow, year after year.

None of these reforms is in the House Democrats' proposal.

What is in it? Initiative 1163. That is the measure promoted by the Service Employees International Union that has the state pay for increased training that most of their members don't need. This costs $14 million, which legislators saved by cutting elsewhere, such as two programs for people with developmental disabilities. One trains people with disabilities for jobs. Another helps them live outside of institutions.

The House Democrats' budget cuts $65 million from state universities and colleges, which are crucial for training the next generation for productive work. It makes no cuts to General Assistance-Unemployable, a program Gov. Chris Gregoire suggested be zeroed out.

Since she recommended this, there has been a drop in caseloads on state programs, largely because of reforms passed in earlier years.

See? Reforms pay off. Legislators should do more of them. Imagine them, propose them, vet them, calculate them and, finding the best ones, do them.

Reform is the way out of the Legislature's vicious cycle of quack budgeting.

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