April 13, 2009 - Countdown to Tax Day

Budgets can be built in one of two ways – decide what you need to buy and find the money to pay for it, or decide how much you have to spend and prioritize spending within the available income. In the first kind of budgeting, you may need to get a better job, or a second job or use some other tactic to increase income that doesn’t involve buying lottery tickets. In the second kind of budgeting, you will have to determine the difference between needs (tithe, food, transport to work, shelter) and wants (toys, imported Swiss vs. Tillamook cheddar, used car vs. new, rent vs. buy a home). The 2009 budgets proposed by the President and our Governor are of the “let spending set the budget” type, and we all know how government increases income to meet a spending budget – by taking more of our income.

As we approach Tax Day, let’s take a look at the question of needs vs. wants. Think back to your first real job and your first real bills, not just paying for your own pizza and movie tickets but grown-up bills like electricity, rent and insurance. You made it through that first year, wished you had more money, but life was okay and you survived. You worked hard, and the next year got a promotion and a raise. If you were an average young American, your “budget” went up as well, meaning you spent whatever you made. If you were really average, you got a credit card or two and spent a little bit more than you made, because next week, or next month or next year you were sure you’d have more money and pay it off. There was always something more to buy. Did you need it, or want it?

Now think back just four years. In April of 2005, were you generally satisfied with the services being provided to you by the state of Washington? The budget was balanced, and income projections showed enough income to cover current commitments and produce a surplus. Instead of using the surplus to pay off debts like the skipped pension fund payments, the legislature acted like a 20 something kid with his/her first real job and good prospects for the future, and went out and committed to expanding government, adding employees and starting more programs. Priorities of government went out the window and budgeting slipped from what do we need to where can we spend.

We need to exercise restraint on our personal budgets, and ask our elected representatives to exercise that same restraint with the public purse. Don’t roll over in resignation. Send a message to Olympia and Washington D.C. by writing your representatives, attending a Tax Day Tea Party Rally, and encouraging others to join you. We still have a government by the people and for the people, but only if we, the people, will speak up.