With the Legislature consistently showing itself willing to wait to the last moment to bring the state's budget into balance, Washington Policy Center has proposed changing the Governor's current across-the-board authority to respond to a deficit to discretionary authority to make surgical reductions to enact timely savings.
One potential way this new discretionary budget cutting authority could be structured could be something along the lines of allowing the Governor to make discretionary reductions that don’t exceed a set % (maybe between 5-10%) of an agency’s appropriations. Cuts in excess of the set % would require approval of a standing legislative emergency budget committee (made up of four corners). No reductions could be made in independently elected statewide officials' budgets without their approval or the standing legislative committee.
All reductions made would have to be immediately reported to legislative fiscal committees and posted on OFM/fiscal.wa.gov. This type of enhanced budget cutting authority for the Governor should provide enough discretion while addressing any accountability or transparency concerns while providing budget reduction tools other than current one size fits all across-the-board cuts option.
In response to this proposal, concerns about separation of powers have been raised as well as objections to providing the Governor too much control over the budget. Similar concerns have been raised at the federal level about providing the President with line-item veto authority .
With these concerns in mind, why should the Governor be provided enhanced budget cutting authority?
It's all about providing the right incentives. Consider the following under the discretionary budget cutting authority we've suggested:
- The Governor could only cut spending, not increase.
- The Governor can't unilaterally raise taxes so the state's default deficit response sans legislative action would be spending reductions, not tax increases.
- The Governor could not zero out an agency's budget since the authority would be restricted to cuts within a certain percentage without approval of the legislative emergency budget committee.
- The Governor could not target political rivals since reductions in independently elected statewide officials' budgets would require their approval or that of the legislative emergency budget committee.
- The Governor would be directly and solely accountable to voters for any reductions made.
- The Legislature could undo any cuts implemented by the Governor by calling itself into a special session or at the next regular session.
Most importantly, the Legislature for the most part could avoid this discretionary budget cutting authority for the Governor from ever being utilized by adopting sustainable budgets and providing a meaningful reserve fund to help the state weather all but the most extreme economic downturns.