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This week, the Associated Press is reporting that some lawmakers in Olympia “have been quietly exploring the logistics of a special election in February 2012 that could ask state voters to raise taxes to help fill another budget shortfall.” 

This is a very promising development. Lawmakers from Washington State to South Carolina and any state with a budget crunch should be exploring straightforward revenue raising options like this. Balancing budgets by cuts alone undermines education, health care, public safety and the myriad of other important services that government provides its constituents.

A less promising development, meanwhile, is that Governor Christine Gregoire has called the legislature back for a special session in November with the goal of finding $2 billion in budget cuts, on the heels of $4.6 billion they already passed earlier this year.

The Washington State Budget and Policy Center (WSBPC)  reminds us that there is a lot at stake in this special session. Already, state agencies have submitted budgets that reflect 10 percent across the board reductions.  Some of the real life implications of these reductions would be: over 18,000 fewer students enrolled in community and technical colleges, the loss of health care for 25,000 children, and the elimination of food assistance for 14,000 low-income legal immigrants.

WSBPC gets it right when it says,it doesn’t have to be that way.  Policymakers can and should raise additional resources through a combination of eliminating wasteful tax breaks and temporarily increasing general tax rates or sin tax rates.

Given the harsh spending cuts that are likely coming down the pike, it’s imperative that lawmakers and the public remain vigilant and explore revenue raising opportunities in both the legislature and through the initiative process.

Photo of Washington State Capitol via Alan Cordova Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0