Finally, reform has become the newest fad among state legislators of both political parties. That can only mean good things for Washingtonians, many of whom are disinterested in partisan victories and more desirous of making state government more efficient.
On Thursday, it was the Democrats’ turn to hoist the banner of reform, a concept that previously was mostly the province of Republicans. “The goal here is not only to deliver a better quality outcome at a lesser cost, but also when we’re facing a huge budget shortfall to figure out if we can narrow that number of that shortfall” — that was the goes-without-saying assessment of Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane. We have to wonder why her pronouncement has become the stated goal only now. Budget deficits are not exactly new, you know.
Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, welcomed the Democrats to the dance: “I’m just happy to see them bring some reforms forward. The more, the merrier.” Indeed, and our affection for this fad even exceeds our frustration that it has taken so long to catch on.
Most of the Democrats’ suggestions for reform are not new. For example, consolidating K-12 employee health insurance programs, which was mentioned Thursday, has been advocated for more than a year by Republicans. If the Democrats want to claim ownership of the idea, fine, just get it done. This change could save the state up to $90 million a year.
Some other ideas fell into the no-duh category. For example: Identifying fraud and abuse in the Medicaid system is said to be worth about $1.6 million through 2017. Again, why has this become important only now?
Democrats also say they want to increase the amount state employees pay for their health care premiums, worth $15 million to $100 million in the 20-13-2015 budget. We have long editorialized that this is a splendid idea, and if crediting Democrats with originating the concept is what it takes to get the ball rolling, well, here’s a tip of our tattered fedora.
All of the Democrats’ proposals combined cannot offset the projected budget deficit of $1 billion through June 2013. Gov. Chris Gregoire correctly advises the legislators to ignore that projection. She believes the economy could worsen even more; thus, she recommends $1.5 billion in cuts or new revenue. Brown acknowledges that the Democrats’ reform proposals, if adopted, could save the state about $300 million over three years, mostly in 2013-2015. “After we get through this process we’re still going to have a gap between revenue and expenditures,” she said Thursday.
But by stepping forward with reform proposals, the Democrats have weakened their earlier argument, that there were no more savings to be had and that revenue had to be the dominant remaining solution. Really? Here we are, years into the lingering projected-deficit predicament, and reform proposals that should’ve been presented years ago are still being offered. With that in mind, what makes Brown or anyone else believe that the search for reforms is complete or should be abandoned? For that matter, why weren’t these ideas submitted last month during the special session when many legislators insisted they had exhausted all ideas?
Keep looking, we say. Both parties have come up with viable recommendations, so work together and implement them.
Once again, Washingtonians are reminded that state government is not an arena where absolutes should be deployed. When politicians lament, “We just can’t cut anymore” or “There are no more ways left to save money,” remind them what happened Thursday when the Democrats’ reform ideas blossomed in Olympia.