Eastside business leaders came looking for answers last Thursday to the state’s budget woes as they met over breakfast with area legislators. Unfortunately, answers were short in coming.
“We have no idea what’s going to happen with the budget,” Rep. Ross Hunter (D-Medina) told the gathering of East King County Chambers of Commerce.
The state is on a roller-coaster ride, Hunter said, and it has yet to hit the bottom where “you get pushed into your seat.”
Chambers represented included Bothell, Woodinville, Bellevue, Issaquah, Maple Valley-Black Diamond, Newcastle, Redmond, Renton, Sammamish and Snoqualmie Valley.
The 105-day session of the Legislature began yesterday and with it comes the problem of dealing with a projected budget deficit of about $5.7 billion. That number is only an educated guess; Hunter said it will get worse.
He was joined on a panel by Sens. Rodney Tom (D-Medina) and Fred Jarrett (D-Mercer Island), and Reps. Glenn Anderson (R-Fall City), Larry Springer (D-Kirkland), Roger Goodman (D-Kirkland) and Judy Clibborn (D-Mercer Island).
Gov. Chris Gregoire has written “a budget for all of us to hate,” Goodman said.
The last time the Legislature faced making major budget cuts was in 1981, Goodman said. This year, he noted, the situation is three times worse.
That, Jarrett noted, means the Legislature “will have to go through the messy sausage-making process.”
The Legislature will tackle the budget “with no pre-ordained plan,” Tom said, although many on the panel already has misgivings about some parts of the governor’s budget.
Springer said the governor’s budget cuts funds for people who are considered unemployable.
“If you take that away, as the governor’s budget does, he said, “where do you think those people will go?”
His assumption: to jails and under freeway overpasses.
In response to an audience question about corporate tax breaks, Hunter said the Legislature doesn’t have a lot of attractive options.
“There are not a lot of obvious give-aways,” he said.
Anderson offered the option of a flat corporate business tax to replace the B&O tax “that puts a cap on the ability of small businesses to grow into medium-sized businesses.”