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Originally published Friday, March 9, 2012 at 5:19 PM

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Once more with feeling: Pass a state budget without 'felony' gimmicks

When Washington lawmakers convene in special session Monday, they must negotiate a budget without budgets and answers concerns of vigilant bond raters that have the state on watch lists.

Seattle Times Editorial

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STATE Treasurer Jim McIntire was unusually blunt when he said the budget passed by House Democrats contained a "felony gimmick" — the postponement of $405 million in payments to public schools. The Republican proposal to skip a $130-million payment into pension funds is another "felony," he said, though a smaller one.

"Both sides should back up and redo this," he said Friday. We agree.

McIntire is a Democrat. When he was in the Legislature, he represented a liberal Seattle district and voted that way. Now he is the elected official responsible for negotiating with Wall Street for the sale of state bonds.

He notes that two of the three big bond raters, Moody's and Fitch, have put Washington on notice for a credit downgrade.

"We're being watched very carefully right now," McIntire said. "I have an obligation to let legislators know that."

Almost all the states have made hard decisions in the past three years and are no longer facing deficits. Washington has made some hard decisions, but not enough of them, and is still hip deep in the financial mud. One reason for this is that legislators keep borrowing from the future, committing felony gimmicks.

The Washington Research Council says the new budget passed by House Democrats would leave the state $2 billion in the hole at the start of the next biennium. That is unacceptable.

We want three things from this budget: first, that it balance without gimmicks; second, that it leaves the state without a crisis at the start of the next budget period; and finally, that it have no more cuts to education, including higher education.

It is a tall order, we know. But we believe it is necessary for the state's future and that it can be done. It implies accepting virtually all of the cuts to social services suggested by Senate Republicans, permanent repeal of Initiatives 728 and 732, other reforms and probably some layoffs. Also repeal of some tax preferences.

What's needed is a respectable budget — one in which the most important things are protected, and the numbers add up without felony.

That the Legislature has a chance at such a budget is in large part thanks to the "roadkill" Democrats in the Senate who defied their own caucus. Their courage has given the state a better chance at a sustainable future.

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