Eye On Olympia

TUESDAY, FEB. 10, 2009, 4:27 P.M.

Budget: not getting better…

The news continues to get worse for Washington's treasury.

The state Economic and Revenue Forecast Council today said that state revenue is down about $63 million lower than expected over the past four weeks. Revenue from Jan. 11 to Feb. 10 -- which due to delays in tax payments largely reflects December sales and business -- were expected to go down less than 6 percent over the same time a year ago. But the drop was steeper: just over 10 percent.

Since November, revenues are $197 million less than expected.

"Preliminary industry detail of tax payments...shows widespread weakness," today's report says, with particularly large drops in furniture sales (-30 percent), car dealers (-27 percent), gas stations and convenience stores (-20 percent), and clothing and accessories (-19 percent).

"The auto sector, the largest retail trade category, has now reported a year-over-year decline in tax payments for thirteen consecutive months," reads the report, written by senior economic forecaster Eric Swenson.

The number of real estate transactions in December was down 24 percent from a year earlier -- and the average price was down by a third.

Gov. Chris Gregoire and some Republican lawmakers want the Legislature's Democratic leaders to move faster on budget cuts. Gregoire yesterday said she's frustrated at lawmakers' pace, and the GOP budget person in the Senate, Sen. Joe Zarelli, says that the state now faces the prospect of cutting a billion dollars in spending between now and June 30. Zarelli's been calling for immediate legislative cuts since early December.

"While the Legislature waits, non-entitlement caseloads grow, salary increases for union employees continue to be granted, and agencies seeking flexibility to make cuts are hamstrung," he said in a written statement. That will mean deeper cuts, "more one-time money and gimmicks" to balance the budget, and "tax increases will be proposed," he said.




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