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State Budget Cuts’ Trickle-Down Effect

Yesterday, Washington State lawmakers passed a budget that cuts $4.5 billion from state services to address a $5 billion shortfall (the rest of the savings come from funds set aside for capital projects and other designations).  They could have made smaller cuts if they had also raised revenue, such as by closing tax loopholes and ending unnecessary tax expenditures.  But they didn’t, and residents will pay the price — often literally.

Lawmakers took more than $1 billion from K-12 education (an amount equal to $1,100 per pupil), roughly $500 million from higher education (causing tuition hikes of 11 to 16 percent), and more than $1 billion apiece from core health and disability services and public employee compensation.  In many cases, these cuts merely shift the costs of providing services to local school districts, hospitals, nonprofit service agencies, and individual families.  As the Wall Street Journal showed yesterday, education cuts in particular tend to mean higher fees for families, often including lower-income families.

You might call it the trickle-down effect of budget cuts.  State lawmakers “tighten their belts” and reduce support for K-12 education.  Local governments, unable or unwilling to raise property taxes, follow suit, cutting funds for schools.  As a result, families must shell out hundreds of dollars in fees so that their children can take biology, chemistry, or advanced placement courses, and to buy things like science materials and math workbooks.  This is in addition to the hefty fees that many families — those who can afford it, that is — pay so their children can participate in extra-curricular activities like sports and band.

While lawmakers in Olympia may claim they rejected tax changes in order to protect taxpayers, the reality is that taxpayers will pay anyway — in the form of higher fees or missed educational opportunities.  And eventually, the entire state will pay when its next generation of adults is behind the curve.