Opinion

'We must discuss new revenue and evaluate our taxes' | Forecasts for 2010

By SEN. KEVIN RANKER

Jan. 11 marked the beginning of our 2010 session in Olympia, and every indication tells us we are in for a bumpy ride.

Just a year after tackling a $9 billion budget deficit — the largest in our state’s history — we’re faced with another $2.6 billion shortfall. This means we’ll be forced to look at even more program cuts and savings enhancements to keep Washington fiscally sound as well as keep our well-established social safety net in place for our most vulnerable.

I believe strongly that it will be harder to cut this $2.6 billion than it was to cut $9 billion, as we have already cut many programs to the bone. We will likely be discussing whole program eliminations instead of cuts.

We need to have an honest and frank conversation about our expectations vs. our revenues. We have high expectations for our schools, our mental health, senior and healthcare programs, public safety, our environmental programs and other issues that define the health, culture and happiness of our communities. On the other hand, we have revenues that are lower than necessary to meet these expectations.

In the 2009 session, Democrats cut an unprecedented $9 billion, or one-fourth, from our state budget — without raising taxes. These cuts hurt, bad. Many critical programs in our local communities were impacted.

As we begin the next session, I believe we have to answer an important question: Do we want to lower our expectations, further cutting programs, or discuss tax reform and raising additional revenues. For too long we’ve cast aside any mention of looking at our revenue, at our own peril. In discussing any possible budget solution, I think it is necessary to not only discuss additional cuts, but also new revenue streams.

Washington last adjusted the state sales tax rate in 1983. Over a quarter of a century has gone by since we’ve taken the time to ask ourselves whether or not we should look at our primary source of state revenue. However, when discussing revenue I think it is necessary to not only discuss new revenue streams, but also evaluate existing taxes — try to reform our taxes in a way that helps small business and our lower- and moderate-income families.

In the end, we need to make sure we fully consider our schools and the lives of many in Washington who depend on the services whose budgets have already been slashed. As we move beyond the recession, the difficulty of our budget decisions will grow exponentially.

We need to think creatively and boldly and place the future of our state above all else. We need to look ahead — not just at the way we solve today’s problems but how we can best position the state for the future. But as we look ahead we have to think about how we got to this spot, and how we can learn from our lessons of the past.

Our budget crisis is a serious challenge, and we should devote the time, energy, and thoughtfulness required to keep Washington on solid ground while positioning ourselves for greatness.

It’s not a simple task, but right now it’s our responsibility to do so.

— Kevin Ranker, D-San Juan Island, represents the 40th Legislative District in the state Senate.

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