Editor’s note: Today’s editorials originally appeared in The Walla Walla Union-Bulletin and the Ashland (Ore.) Daily Tidings. Editorial content from other publications and authors is provided to give readers a sampling of regional and national opinion and does not necessarily reflect positions endorsed by the Editorial Board of The Daily News.
The Washington state revenue forecast (as in tax collection projections) continues ticking upward.
The forecast released Tuesday shows Washington state is expected to see a net increase in revenue of nearly $432 million over the next two years. The Economic and Revenue Forecast Council now projects total revenue at nearly $51 billion for the two-year state budget cycle that starts Monday.
The strong revenue collections mean the overall economy in Washington state is sound, as the bulk of tax revenue comes from sales and property taxes.
But it doesn’t mean the state should increase spending. The reality is that the two-year budget approved by the Legislature and Gov. Jay Inslee is $52.1 billion — a record amount. Lawmakers did put $2.7 in reserves in that budget, so there is some wiggle room if tax collections sputter.
Still, given that a great revenue forecast isn’t good enough to fully cover the spending plan, this record-setting budget is still tight. That should be a reality check for the Legislature and Inslee.
Beyond that, lawmakers must keep in mind that while the Seattle-area’s economy is white hot, the rest of the state is humming along at a more modest pace. Paying a little more tax in the Puget Sound area might not be noticed, but it pinches in rural parts of the state.
The Legislature can’t keep raising taxes and boosting spending (about 16 percent higher than the previous budget), as it did this year, to pay for everything from education to law enforcement. Double-digit budget increases are not sustainable.
Now, we understand that the Legislature faced a mess going into this year’s budget-writing session. Its recently approved plan to fully fund basic education, despite being given the OK by the state Supreme Court, fell far short of expectations. Some school districts, including a few in the Tri-Cities (but not Walla Walla), boosted teacher and administrator pay so high that their local budgets were not sustainable.
In addition, funding was added to begin reforming the state’s mental-health system. Again, a worthy cause.
But our concern continues to be that the 16 percent spending increase over the next two years will grow with inflation or surpass it in the years to come.
The focus should be on beefing up the reserve fund and trimming costs so as to avoid the need for higher taxes or fees next year or the year after.
Don’t delay the Census
After the Supreme Court thwarted the administration’s attempt to add a citizenship question to 2020 U.S. Census forms, President Trump said he wants to delay the Census for however long it takes to provide a satisfactory explanation of the rationale.
The U.S. Constitution requires an “actual enumeration” of population every 10 years, to apportion U.S. House seats based on “the whole number of persons in each state.” That’s persons, not citizens.
A citizenship question has not been asked of every household since 1950.
Experts estimate that 6.5 million people might not respond and therefore not be counted if the citizenship question is included. Census figures are used not only to apportion House seats, but also to allocate $900 billion in federal funds for everything from public education to highway repairs.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said he asked for the citizenship question because the Justice Department needed the information to enforce the Voting Rights Act. But strong evidence indicates the real reason was to let states redraw districts based on the number of eligible voters rather than all residents, benefiting the Republican Party.
Ross lied. Or, in Chief Justice John Roberts’ words, “the evidence tells a story that does not match the explanation the secretary gave for his decision.”
The Supreme Court affirmed a lower court decision asking for a better explanation.
It’s not clear how long the government can delay printing Census forms. But the administration shouldn’t be allowed to jeopardize the Census itself in a blatant attempt to increase its own political power.