They may not be a very popular group right now — but make no mistake, the scene they create could be very influential. They’ll have free shows in Tacoma, Everett, Vancouver and Spokane. And if the only people in the audience are dance tea partiers, you can bet we’ll all be singing a sorry song this fall. Yes, I’m talking about the Transforming Washington’s Budget Tour (with apologies duly given to Paul).
Don’t tune me out here — this is important. Governor Gregoire has scheduled a series of public meetings on the 2011-13 state budget. It is being billed as a chance for Washingtonians to learn about the state’s current budget challenges and give feedback about how to fix them. But the forums will be much more than an exercise in numbers, because next year’s state budget will represent the answer to two critical questions:
- Will we keep the public structures that underpin our communities and our economy – like public education, transportation, higher education, health care, and public safety – intact during the recession and on into the recovery?
- If so, who will pay for them; if not, what will it cost us?
The TWB Tour is happening in part because Washington State is out of easy answers to those questions. And if the only people who show up for these public forums are those who favor a slash-and-burn approach…well, you can probably guess what that might look like on the local news.
Since 2009, the recession has cost the state approximately $12 billion in tax revenue. So far, state leaders have patched together a mix of budget cuts (37%), federal recovery funds (31%), transfers and other changes (24%), and revenue increases (8%) that have balanced the 2009-2011 budget and prevented a $2.4 billion shortfall through FY 2013. But with the economy still in the doldrums, next year lawmakers may have to find as much as $3.5 billion to keep the budget balanced.
More budget cuts are a lose-lose proposition for our kids, our parents, and our economy. (They lose now, and we all lose in the future when the cost of short-changing them comes back to bite us in the budget.) Fortunately, there is a more responsible and sustainable course of action — one that makes our tax system more fair to boot.
Last year, EOI identified over $2.2 billion in state revenue lost due to just a few of the 600-plus special tax loopholes and exemptions on the books. By closing these and other tax breaks, we can give our public structures a stable source of funding that grows at the same rate as our economy over the long run, while keeping taxpayers on a fair and level playing field.
But it won’t happen unless the Governor and other policy-makers hear from you. The TWB Tour is your chance to tell representatives from Governor’s office, staffers from the state Office of Financial Management, and members of the Governor’s Budget Committee** that closing tax breaks is the responsible way forward for Washington State. (Even if you can’t be at one of the meetings, you can still contact your state legislators by email or by phone to tell them your opinion. They *do* listen — especially if you’re pleasant, and especially if you put things in your own words.)
Here are some suggested talking points:
1. Our public structures and services — like early education, transportation, higher education, health care, and public safety – are vital to keeping our communities strong and growing our economy.
2. It is irresponsible and short-sighted to simply continue cutting the budget, given the long-term negative consequences for our children, working families, small businesses and the elderly.
3. Instead of allowing special tax exemptions to continue for a privileged, politically-connected few, the Governor should work with legislators to close existing tax breaks (here’s a list), and require more stringent public reporting and evaluation of any proposed new tax breaks.
The public hearings schedule is posted below — be sure to arrive 30-45 minutes early, as seats and slots for speaking will likely fill up:
- July 19 – Tacoma, 7-9 PM, UW Tacoma-William W. Phillip Hall, Milgard Assembly Room, 1900 Commerce Street
- July 21 – Everett, 7-9 PM, Everett Community College, Parks Building, Multi Purpose Room, 2000 Tower Street
- July 27 —Vancouver, 7-9 PM, WSU-Vancouver, Administration Building Room 110, 14204 NE Salmon Creek Avenue, Vancouver
- July 29 — Spokane, 5-7 PM, Spokane City Hall, City Council Chambers, 808 W. Spokane Falls Boulevard
Each hearing will be 2 hours long with an hour long presentation by the Office of Financial Management at the beginning, then about 1 hour of public comments. The format of the public comment period is not known.
**The Governor’s Committee on Transforming Washington’s Budget is made up of policy experts and community leaders from across Washington State, including EOI’s own Policy Director Marilyn Watkins, who will serve as an advisory board for the Governor. If you can’t make the meeting, but would still like to offer your solutions to the budget shortfall, please contact Marilyn.