In Our View: State Budget: Wait and See

Remember all these great promises as Inslee, McKenna battle for governor

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Gov. Chris Gregoire disagrees with the budget proposals of both gubernatorial candidates, dismissing them as inadequate. Well, we've got more confidence in the next governor than Gregoire seems to have, and we don't even know yet who he'll be."I'm telling both candidates I don't know how you can meet your obligations for McCleary without new revenue," Gregoire said Thursday. (McCleary is a state Supreme Court mandate for the Legislature to meet constitutional requirements to fund basic education). "New revenue" often becomes a euphemism for new taxes or tax increases. "Nothing is off the table," Gregoire also said when discussing a 2013-2015 state budget she will propose before the end of the year.

By contrast, both Democrat Jay Inslee and Republican Rob McKenna have repeatedly stated in their ultra-close battle for governor that they will not raise taxes. Our response: Hold each man to his promise. Give the next governor the chance to balance a budget without increasing taxes.

And here are a couple of things to remember about the next state budget:

In final form, it will be decided by the Legislature. The governor's proposal only starts the process. Majority control of the Legislature (especially the state Senate) is uncertain, and no one knows for sure the party affiliation of the next governor. We rather like the idea of pressuring next year's majority party in the Legislature — regardless of which party it is — to work with the new governor to balance a budget without increasing taxes.

Gregoire is eminently correct when she says Inslee and McKenna are candidates, while "I'm a realist." She's also right when she says this about the candidates' ideas about closing tax loopholes: "You better be ready with a two-thirds vote" in both chambers of the Legislature, as reported by Jim Camden of The Spokesman-Review in Spokane. But that same two-thirds-approval requirement (if approved by voters next Tuesday) would also apply to any ideas Gregoire has about increasing taxes.

If an economic recovery ever kicks in, state revenue automatically will increase. Critics properly say that's no guarantee, and they wisely remind us that wishing for prosperity is no way to write a state budget. But a lot can happen between now and the next legislative session, which convenes in January. Ask Barack and Mitt. Why not wait and see what shakes out?

McKenna and Inslee have several ideas about balancing the budget, even under the stare of McCleary, compliance with which could cost $1 billion, and even before the next revenue forecast is issued in November. Among McKenna's suggestions, he wants to cap non-education spending at 6 percent. Inslee says much more can be saved through greater emphasis on "lean" management principles.

Gregoire essentially scoffs at their proposals with a been-there, done-that reaction. And, come next year, she might emerge as brilliantly prophetic. But for now, let's keep listening to the candidates try to promise their way to victory on Nov. 6. Yes, let's listen very carefully, and remember very well, and prepare to hold the winner to his promises.