Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The Legislature is in its second week of Special Session. I have little progress to report on the budget negotiations, which are being handled by a few key members of the House and Senate Ways and Means Committees. This seems like a good opportunity to explain my honest thoughts on the big picture of the budget.
First, some numbers from the March state revenue forecast:
2009-11 projected revenue: $28.047 Billion
2011-13 projected revenue $31.907 Billion
Point #1: our state does not have a revenue problem. Revenues are up for the 2011-13 biennium!
Point #2: since projected revenues for the next biennium significantly exceed revenues for the prior biennium, it should be clear that the core functions of government are not the problem with our budget. Education is not the problem. Public safety is not the problem. Basic care for vulnerable groups like people with disabilities, the elderly, and children is not the problem. We need to maintain our public investment in these things, as well as infrastructure and a clean environment.
I would isolate three issues that are at the heart of our budget problem and have become the main drivers of cyclically unsustainable budgets. The first is a bureaucratic mindset that pervades much of government and exalts professional government experts and managers over elected representatives and citizens. The second is a growing pattern of administrative rule that lays down regulations over most conceivable areas of public and private life, at tremendous cost to taxpayers, businesses, and property owners. The third is a dependency on government programs to help able-bodied people provide for private goods like health care, food, retirement, employment, housing, childcare, and more.
All three of these things—bureaucracy, administrative rule, and government social programs—pose challenges to our form of government. As a self-governing people, we ought to prefer elections over experts, relationships over rules, and independence over dependency.
None of the features of a large government are in themselves inherently unjust—we have at least some real need for bureaucracies, regulations, and government social programs—and a society of our size and complexity cannot get by with a tiny government. But a society with our tradition of liberty and self-government cannot get by with a massive government. The challenges to self-government are at least eighty years in the making, and the reversal of systemic budget problems at the state and federal levels is the work of a generation.
In the meantime, I hope that budget negotiators will make quick work to focus their cuts on bureaucracy, administrative rule, and dependency programs rather than schools, public safety, and care for the truly vulnerable.
468 John L.O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
360-786-7968 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000