Business leader cautions lawmakers: “It’s time to tap the brakes on spending growth and prepare for the future. “

Opportunity Washington: Business Taxes / Revenue from Association of WA Business on Vimeo.

In a must-read Tri-City Herald op-ed, Association of Washington Business president Kris Johnson cautions legislators that their proposed budgets are not sustainable. Reminding them of previous cycles of boom-bust budgeting, Johnson writes,

In the years ahead of the last recession, legislators rapidly ramped up spending, increasing it by almost 18 percent during the 2005-07 biennium and another 12 percent in 2007-09. When the recession hit, they had to cut more than $3 billion from state programs and raise taxes by $774 million just to balance the budget. The roller coaster of boom-bust budgeting made a bad situation worse. 

Johnson writes that many economists and business leaders foresee a downturn in the next year or so. We’re “near the top of the roller coaster.” Fortunately, he says, lawmakers can meet all of their spending obligations without raising taxes. The large proposed spending hikes are not required.

Based on the recent revenue forecast, state lawmakers have enough money to deliver a balanced budget without new taxes.

They can fund everything to which they had committed previously — including a historically large increase in K-12 spending — as well as salary bumps for public employees and the new consolidated school employee health care program. Available resources in the next biennium, including the predicted revenue growth, will cover those obligations and still provide for healthy reserves as a hedge against the inevitable downturn.

Voters agree: Tax increases are not necessary.

A recent statewide public survey commissioned by the Association of Washington Business found that most Washingtonians believe the Legislature should be able to write a budget without imposing new taxes. When informed about the growth in the state budget, two-thirds of respondents said they don’t support new and higher taxes.

Finally, he says lawmakers have recently demonstrated a bipartisan willingness to accomplish tough tasks.

Negotiating a budget that funds services most needed and beneficial for the entire state is no small task. In recent years lawmakers successfully met the state Supreme Court’s McCleary mandate to fully fund basic education, a remarkable bipartisan accomplishment. A strong economy helped. But so did rigorous attention to fiscal restraint and priority-setting. That discipline is again required.

In the final days of the legislative session, there’s time to get it right.

Negotiating a budget that funds services most needed and beneficial for the entire state is no small task. In recent years lawmakers successfully met the state Supreme Court’s McCleary mandate to fully fund basic education, a remarkable bipartisan accomplishment. A strong economy helped. But so did rigorous attention to fiscal restraint and priority-setting. That discipline is again required.

Lawmakers must ask: Is a historic spending increase —on the heels of 14 and 17 percent increases in the last two state budgets — wise or sustainable?

After careful consideration, the answer is “no.”

Let’s not overplay our hand. It’s time to tap the brakes on spending growth and prepare for the future.