May 12, 2010

Our government at work - Washington State edition

You know that the Democratic Governor is not well thought of when the liberal Seattle Times has issues with the new budget:
State budget is officially signed and utterly unsustainable
Gov. Chris Gregoire has signed the supplemental budget for the year to end June 30, 2011. It is not sustainable.

The budget pays for current programs by diverting money from long-term investments like water treatment and contributions to state employee pension funds. It relies on one-time federal money and on college tuition increases too large to be repeated indefinitely. It is a budget that keeps most programs alive and most state workers employed, while taking the least possible responsibility for the long term.

Budgeting this way is a failure of leadership of the governor and of House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle; Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane; Senate Ways & Means Chair Margarita Prentice, D-Renton, and others. In the Senate majority caucus, Rodney Tom, D-Medina and vice chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, opposed this budget. Other Senate Democrats who voted against the budget include Mary Margaret Haugen, Camano Island; Steve Hobbs, Lake Stevens; Derek Kilmer, Spokane; and Tim Sheldon, Potlatch.

The budget is carried on the backs of the people, who are in the same recession the state is. We had our own burdens to carry. We have had to adjust, to reset our plans. The state, for the most part, has not. Officials talked about abolishing boards and commissions, and legislators zapped a few ones you've never heard of. But they didn't have the courage even to get rid of the state liquor stores.

State agencies could have rid themselves of staff people planners, office assistants and redundant managers. For the most part, they have not.

The governor could have forced the reopening of state employee contracts, so that state employees would pay more than 12 percent of their health-insurance premiums a share more like what private employees pay. There was a way to do this.

The Legislature has just saddled the private sector with a tax increase of $800 million a year. This is more than enough. From now on, the people and their legislators need to put further tax increases out of their minds. They need to reset state government so that its appetites match its revenue. The state must live with the revenue it has.

If this sounds like a Republican program, remember that Democratic Gov. Gary Locke did a version of it seven years ago. He called it Priorities of Government, and it worked. Something like it could be used again.

This is the issue that should inform voters in the midterm elections in November.
Hat tip to Ron Hebron writing at Sound Politics for the link. The Evergreen Freedom Foundation put together a 61 page PDF report listing a 105-day line item by line item way to significantly cut the budget. I have only read about ten pages so far but everything looks very reasonable and do-able. I will read the rest later tonight but I doubt that I will find any real stinkers. And in our little neck of the woods, dealing with one of the tax increases will mean a reprogramming of our cash register. Candy will be subject to sales tax at the beginning of June. Some Candy, not all Candy. From the Washington State Department of Revenue:
Candy is a preparation of sugar, honey, or other natural or artificial sweeteners combined with chocolate, fruits, nuts, or other ingredients or flavorings and formed into bars, drops or pieces. Candy does not include any preparation containing flour and does not require refrigeration.
So when someone comes up with a Hershey Baking Bar - Unsweetened, that is taxable but when someone comes up with some Hershey Powered Cocoa for Baking, that is not taxable. JORDAN ALMONDS GOLD and SILVER are taxed while the WHITE are not. If you are looking to buy Brach's candy, Butter Mints are not taxed while Cinnamon Mints are taxed. You can find the whole 3,270 item list here as an XLS spreadsheet. Granted, if we had a barcode scanner and were fully automated, this would be just a minor issue but we do not have the $20K to implement even a minimal system nor do we have the time (or staff) to maintain the database. This tax program may be just "the cost of doing business" to a large grocery chain but it is a serious roadblock to smaller Mom and Pop stores. Our option will be to program a Grocery-Taxed department on our register and to put big neon stickers on each candybar that is exempt. Out of the 3K+ on the spreadsheet, it is only 263 items that are non-taxed -- this is less than 1%. What blue-blind paralytic bureaucratic imbecile had the brilliant idea to consider that Candy containing Flour was not Candy and was, instead Food. I know that the government does some good things now and then but this is not one of them. And don't get me started on the recent tax hike on tobacco... Posted by DaveH at May 12, 2010 7:35 PM | TrackBack