It’s true that it takes time to make thoughtful decisions on reducing a $32 billion state budget. It’s also true that lawmakers have known since this summer that the Governor would be calling a special session to balance the budget. Yet despite knowing what is required, the sense of urgency on display in Olympia right now is wanting, to say the least.
The Governor could have helped provide extra incentive for lawmakers to act by also ordering date certain across-the-board cuts that would take effect unless the Legislature balanced the budget itself or provided the Governor the tools to do so.
Since this type of drastic consequence isn’t hanging over lawmakers, rumors of adjourning the special session as early as next week without balancing the budget are already making the rounds in the halls of the capitol.
If lawmakers aren’t going to balance the budget before going home for the holidays they should at least provide the Governor with discretionary budget cutting authority so she can start to make immediate surgical reductions.
They could do this by amending RCW 43.88.110 (the state budget and accounting act) to provide the Governor discretionary budget cutting authority versus the current across-the-board option.
One potential way this new discretionary budget cutting authority could be structured could be something along the lines of allowing the Governor to make discretionary reductions that don’t exceed a set % (maybe between 5-10%) of an agency’s appropriations. Cuts in excess of the set % would require approval of a standing legislative emergency budget committee (made up of four corners). No reductions could be made in independently elected statewide officials’ budgets without their approval or the standing legislative committee.
All reductions made would have to be immediately reported to legislative fiscal committees and posted on OFM/fiscal.wa.gov. This type of enhanced budget cutting authority for the Governor should provide enough discretion while addressing any accountability or transparency concerns while providing budget reduction tools other than current one size fits all across-the-board cuts option.