Friday, August 13, 2010

Reporter's Notebook

Paul Leonard can be reached at

Paradigm drift

You know things are getting tough when even politicians – normally harbingers of almost-supernatural optimism – start to get spooked about the seesawing economy.

Take Gov. Chris Gregoire for instance – a politician not known for an overabundance of “sky is falling” pronouncements.

On Thursday, Gregoire delivered remarks on the state budget, praising efforts by Washington state’s Congressional delegation to secure $208 million in emergency education and Medicare funding, while still warning of painful and deep cuts to come.

Here are some highlights of her speech:

On the economy: “In the spring we took two steps forward. Now we’re taking one step back.”

In regards to the use of the Rainy Day Fund to balance the state’s most recent budget: “This recession is unlike anything we’ve experienced – the worst in 80 years. It’s pouring down rain…”

And last, but not least, about the coming sea change in the relationship between the state and its citizens: “These reductions will obviously mean a dramatic shift in what can be expected of state government.”

Gregoire is just one of a growing number of public leaders to sound the alarm in recent weeks about the unsustainable mix of declining revenue and increased government obligations.

It’s almost as if the new “normal,” which began settling in over dining room tables across the country at the onset of the economic downturn, has finally started to drift upwards into city halls, statehouses and even into the halls of Congress.

So it is in the absence of any dramatic event or groundbreaking revelation that I thereby name this evolution of governmental priorities, a “paradigm drift.”

I say “drift” because elected leaders seem to be slowly realizing what everyone else has known all along: that it’s time to live within one’s means.

No longer can families, business owners – or, for that matter, our government – dig itself out of a budgetary hole with borrowed money. The time for postponing tough fiscal decisions has long passed.

For legislators already thinking ahead to next biennium, now is the time to come up with a truly-balanced budget and to finally catch up with thousands of penny-pinching Washington families, all of whom might be wondering one thing:

“What took you so long?”