"Fiscally insolvent. " It's a frightening term for any organization. But it is especially jarring when applied to the Seattle School District, which last week said it is in dire...

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“Fiscally insolvent.” It’s a frightening term for any organization.

But it is especially jarring when applied to the Seattle School District, which last week said it is in dire straits. And if it doesn’t find deeper waters by June 2006, well …

Well what? I tried to get an answer yesterday, but the head honchos in the district’s finance department were on vacation or out sick.

Can’t say I blame them.

School Superintendent Raj Manhas was in but unavailable. My guess is that he had better things to do than talk to me. Like, say, find some money.

Can’t blame him, either.

This isn’t a dot-com trying to avoid a crash. This is a district made up of 44,650 students in 10 high schools, 10 middle schools, 62 elementary schools and 22 alternative schools and special programs.

In that sense, Manhas is like a father who has inherited a huge family and can’t balance the checkbook. He’s already fired his secretary, sold his second car, started packing bag lunches and given up the idea of ever playing golf again.

Meanwhile, the kids just keep coming.

It may be time to acknowledge the elephant in Washington state’s living room: a personal income tax.

There’s no doubt the issue is a political third rail. Touch it, and you’re fried.

King County Executive and former gubernatorial candidate Ron Sims suggested an income tax in his plan for the state. You don’t see people wondering whether his votes were fairly counted, do you?

The same stigma applies to raising existing taxes.

So lame-duck Gov. Gary Locke felt free to toss a $500 million tax increase in his proposed budget. What are we going to do? Run him out? He’s already the political equivalent of Henny Youngman: “Take my office — please!”

It’s time we stop waving these proposals off with our patented “Never gonna happen here” scowl.

The truth is, our options for the state are the same as they are for our families. Hit hard times, and you have to take a hard look at how you spend, what you can do without and how you can raise more cash.

The Seattle School District has already done that by selling off property and cutting central administration jobs. It ended the last two years with a small surplus.

Under Manhas, staffers are keeping a close eye on the action in Olympia (the latest: a plan to make the districts boost what they put into pension funds) and briefing the supe every Monday morning.

“It is constantly changing,” district spokesman Peter Daniels said of the district’s financial outlook.

The district can’t control its budget, in part, because it doesn’t know what to expect from the state until April.

“We never get a lot of hard and fast figures until much later in the process,” Daniels said. “The dialogue needs to happen a lot earlier.”

That dialogue should include taxpayers talking about what we’re willing to pay. Because it’s not just leaders’ job to trim fat. If we want to get healthy, we all must adopt the same mantra: No pain, no gain.

Nicole Brodeur’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or nbrodeur@seattletimes.com.

She’d give up Netflix. Maybe.