Today the Senate passed its operating budget, and on the surface the budget does some important things. It reduces the cost of college tuition, which is critical to students across our state, and it begins to pay some of the costs of fulfilling the state’s constitutional obligation to fully fund K-12 education.

So on the surface it looks pretty nice. But beneath that surface is a foundation that is rife with problems. This is a budget based on broken promises and broken trust.

How can anyone — whether they are negotiating a labor contract with the state, or supporting a dedicated fund in the state — put any faith or trust in a Senate that turns its back on past assurances to achieve the false promise of no new taxes?

Watch out for hidden taxes

Believe me, this budget has plenty of new taxes! They’re just hidden from public view:

  • This budget has a new tax on retirees who will face a $40 a month cut in their Medicare benefits.
  • It will mean a new tax on citizens in local water and sewer districts that will have to find a way to repay $200 million in public works assistance funds that have been swept away.
  • It has a new tax on the hospitals in our state, where the so-called bed tax had been negotiated in good faith, to be ignored for a grab of another $47 million in quality assurance fees.

No, this isn’t a no-tax budget — it’s a hide-the-tax budget. Sort of like the Easter egg hunts a lot of children enjoyed this past week. Except on this hunt, you won’t find eggs — you’ll find all kinds of new taxes you’ll have to pay.

Civil servants will probably pay the biggest hidden tax. The contracts they bargained with the state in good faith are unilaterally cast aside in this budget and replaced with a small pot of chump change.

After this, how can anyone put any faith in any agreements or past practice? With this Senate budget, it all gets swept away, ignored and discarded when it’s convenient.

Now, you might say it’s been done before, this is no big deal. Yes, dedicated accounts were swept when we were in the depths of the “Great Recession,” but that was done with the promise that when the economy regained its strength, we would restore those borrowed funds. We asked state employees to take unpaid furloughs with the assurance that when the economy improved, we would make things right.

But that promise is broken now, too.

These actions create cynicism and mistrust that is corrosive to our democracy.

This budget is built on a ‘House of Cards’ that can easily collapse overnight

To top it all off, this budget is built on magical thinking … like a veritable “House of Cards.” This budget relies on a very expensive roll of the dice; it sends Initiative 1351 back to the voters for a repeal vote. If the voters suddenly decide they actually don’t want smaller class sizes after all, we can magically balance this House of Cards budget — at least for a few months.

But what if the voters say no? What if they tell us “Hell no, do your job and lower class sizes”? Then this entire House of Cards budget will collapse overnight. And our constituents will draw the obvious conclusion that the cynicism and broken promises of that House of Cards on that TV series isn’t just another fictional story.

It’s become a real story unfolding here in Olympia’s state Senate. This isn’t your average biennial budget melodrama. This is a deal breaker for everyone who voted us into office to represent their interests.

Breaking trust, rejecting contracts, ignoring promises is corrosive to this institution and to our very democracy. That’s what this budget does.

For our part, as this budget moves through the Legislature, we Democrats will be doing our best to fix it — and replace all the hidden taxes with transparent, sustainable funding mechanisms that will spread the cost of funding education fairly instead of singling out the middle class and those who can afford it the least.