State Budget Cuts’ Trickle-Down Effect

May 26, 2011 at 3:18 pm

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.

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More About Erica Williams

Erica Williams

Erica Williams joined the Center in August 2009 as a Policy Analyst with the State Fiscal Project

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3 Comments Add Yours ↓

Comments are listed in reverse chronological order.

  1. Brian daley #

    It should be noted that Washington is one of the few states controlled by democrats…I f the Democrats in a liberal state sanction massive cuts in education what is the difference between the GOP and the DEms ?

    • Stephen Shapero #

      Brian – as far as I can tell, there is very little difference when it comes down to things that matter to me as a resident. On the other hand, what could the state have done with reduced revenues (a result of the recession)? Voters here rejected an initiative to instigate an income tax for people with incomes > $400,000 – despite the fact that rich people voted for it, many people voted against it because they were afraid of the precedent it set.

      To me, this is the fundamental problem of American politics right now. People want government services (like Medicare and Education), but when they are asked to pay more taxes to support these services they want, they refuse and vote people out of office. They want the federal government to work like the happy part of the real estate boom: no money down low-interest loans… Until Americans are willing to make sacrifices and willing to vote for candidates who demand those sacrifices, we’re screwed.

  2. Mary S Whitmore #

    Thirty Two years ago, my husband and I moved our family to the Seattle area because our two children were being ill-served by the schools in our San Jose, CA. neighborhood. My friends/neighbors and I researched educational standards of various districts throughout the Pacific coast states. We found that 3 school districts in western Washington state had excellent achievement records. Four families on our block moved to these school districts within 6 months of each other. We effectively relocated half of our east San Jose neighborhood.
    I am now within 18 months of retirement and my adopted state has destroyed education here. I have grandchildren ranging in age from 9-19. When I retire, I am relocating to another state and I am taking them (and families) with me. We have discussed it and feel the kids can get a better education there. The state legislature has betrayed the families of Washington. We are currently third in large class size. This latest is the final straw. I am really sorry to see it happen.

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