The latest revenue forecast is for another decline of nearly $800 million in expected state revenue through June 2013.
This puts in place a final piece of information that the Legislature needs as lawmakers try to build a state budget for the next biennium.
We now face a shortfall of $5.3 billion.
Conven-tional wisdom in political circles is that the only option is to adopt an “all-cuts” budget.
Such a budget will come on top of $6 billion in reductions that have already occurred in the current biennium.
It will harm our children, the old, the sick, the disabled and the poor.
It will not ask any sacrifice from the rest of us.
This is because of the assumption that any tax changes are off the table. This belief is based upon voter approval of Initiative 1053 last November that requires a two-thirds vote in the Legislature to raise taxes or to close existing tax loopholes.
The Legislature does have the ability to choose a different course.
Lawmakers can decide to build a budget that includes both reductions and revenues. Many polls conducted since the November elections demonstrate that the public expects the Legislature to take such a balanced approach.
The public also appears to believe that there is waste in state programs that can be eliminated without doing harm to essential public services.
Most close observers of the reality of state operations do not believe that this perception is accurate, and under no circumstance can we close a $5.3 billion gap through such an approach.
The Legislature could choose to build a budget based upon the following five steps:
• Make additional efforts to improve the efficiency of public services.
• Reduce expenditures by further trimming existing programs.
• Ask employees and contractors who provide state services to accept less compensation.
• Trim or eliminate existing tax breaks that are less important than the public services that will be reduced in order to pay for the tax breaks.
• Raise additional revenue from the public by a variety of tax changes that could include broadening the sales tax base, while lowering the overall tax rate.
Thus far, proposed budgets have focused almost entirely on the first three steps. To move in a different direction will not be easy, but it is not impossible.
It will require putting aside normal political orthodoxy and normal concern about the next election cycle. A five-step solution would require the agreement of only 100 people – 66 House members, 33 senators, and the governor.
These 100 leaders could agree that a balanced approach is in the best long-term interest of the citizens of our state. In the alternative, if we continue our drift to an all cuts budget, we will ask the children, the old, the sick and the poor to bear the burden of a national financial meltdown in which they played no part.
To govern is to choose, but to govern wisely is to choose in a just manner.
Gerald “Jerry” Reilly is chair of the ElderCare Alliance. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org