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Posts tagged: budget shortfall

State budget hole: $900 million

OLYMPIA – Washington faces a $900 million budget hole through 2015, a slightly smaller one for the Legislature to fill than previously thought, thanks to a slowly recovering economy.

Governor-elect Jay Inslee, a Democrat, reiterated Wednesday he plans to do that without a tax increase, a sentiment seconded a few hours later by Republicans on the state's Economic Forecast Council when it received the latest projection of money coming into and going out of the state coffers for the next four years.

The Democrat who heads the House budget committee, however, was skeptical. . .

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, click here to go inside the blog.

(Editor's note: the original headline for this item incorrectly state the shortfall in billions.)

Gregoire: Don’t bring me budget gimmicks

OLYMPIA — With the projected gap between income and expenses growing another $500 million to $5.1 billion, Gov. Chris Gregoire said the Legislature may be forced to eliminate popular programs they had  hoped to merely trim.

They aren't going to be able to raise taxes, and they shouldn't try some of the budget “gimmicks” being suggested by some Democrats, such as adding revenues from a “25th month” into the 2011-13 budget or borrowing money by selling more bonds. Asked if she would veto any such plans, Gregoire replied: “Don't bring it to me.”

She would consider increasing gambling options, and even a proposal to license and regulate medical marijuana, which supporters say would bring in more revenue to the state. Saving money in the Corrections Department by allowing early release of more felons is “the last place I'd go.”

She also discounted a suggestion by Republicans the Legislature should reject contracts her staff has negotiated with state employees' unions for the coming biennium and demand more cuts in wages and benefits. The contracts already have a 3 percent wage cut after several years without cost-of-living increases, furloughs and increases in health care costs, proof that “public employees have stepped up to the sacrifice,” she said.

Rejecting the contracts could mean the state pays the higher wages and benefits rates of the current contracts for the first year, and a guarantee of a better deal in the second year of the budget cycle is “a hard promise to keep,” she said.

In her budget proposal in December, Gregoire proposed eliminating a series of state programs not required by federal law, including the Basic Health Program and the Disability Lifeline. Legislators balked, saying they'd rather reduce the programs by reducing the income levels that make a person or family eligible, and that system worked for a supplemental budget that patched the shortfall for the rest of this budget. Asked whether they'd be able to do that for 2011-13, Gregoire was doubtful: “I don't know. I think it's tough.”

An hour before her press conference, the Capitol Rotunda and hallways outside her office were filled with protestors demanding that the state cut tax breaks for businesses, and raise more tax revenue, rather than cut programs. She offered no hope that would be a strategy she'd follow.

“It's much easier said than done. How am I going to get a two-thirds vote?” she said. Closing tax exemptions are considered a tax increase, which requires a two-thirds majority in both houses under an initiatives the voters passed in November.

WA Lege Day 67: Economic day of reckoning

OLYMPIA — Today is F-Day in Olympia, as in Forecast Day.

Arun Raha, the state's chief economist, will issue his forecast of the amount of revenue the state can expect to collect in the 2011-13 biennium, which will guide budget writers in the Legislature for however long it takes for them to write the General Operating Budget.

Until noon, the state budget is projected to have a $4.6 billion gap between what the state can expect to bring in with taxes, fees and other sources of revenue, and the cost of all the programs, services and salaries it currently has on the books.

The forecast released at noon is expected to widen that gap, and the real question is, by  how much? The low side is about $500 million; the high side is $2 billion.

Gov. Chris Gregoire has a press conference scheduled for 2 p.m. to talk about the new numbers.

But that's not all, as they say in the Ronco commercials.

The Poker Players Alliance, who are fans of online poker are in Olympia lobbying their favorite legislators to change the law to make the online version of their favorite card game poker legal in Washington. They'll  shuffling up and dealing with legislators at a closed door reception later in the evening.

And…

The Washington Association of Churches and other faith-based groups from throughout the Puget Sound are mounting an InterFaith Advocacy Day to lobby for their favorite programs, and will be able to join the Protect our Future Revenue Forecast Rally on the north steps of the Capitol about the time the forecast is being announced. The Backbone Campaign has a “Prioritize People” vigil across the lawn on the Temple of Justice steps. The state's newspaper publishers are also in town. It's Massage Awareness Day with massage therapists in the Capitol Mezzanine. Many of the staff are wearing green for St. Patrick's Day, although some members of the SEIU who are doing some lobbying will be dressed in a different shade for Purple Presence Day.

No decision on special session

OLYMPIA — After nearly two hours behind closed doors, legislative leaders and Gov. Chris Gregoire broke their huddle over budget problems but emerged with no consensus on a special session to close at least some of a gap of $1.1 billion projected for the remainder of the fiscal year.

The only agreement seemed to be that the meeting was “productive.”

“We’re all moving in the right direction,” Sen. Joe Zarelli of Ridgefield, the Senate Republicans’ budget expert, said. But there’s no specific time table for making decisions, although his preference is “sooner rather than later.”

Democrats said they needed more time to get consensus on possible cuts. Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said a short session that could cut “hundreds of millions” out of the budget only makes sense if they could reach an agreement. But he won’t know if that agreement is possible for his caucus until next week, when legislators are gathering for interim committee meetings.

Rep. Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, said House Democrats are also discussing different ideas for cuts.

Some of the big ticket items on lists proposed by Gregoire and Senate Republicans include the state’s Disability Lifeline program and the Basic Health Program. Scaling back or eliminating those programs could be difficult in a special session that lasts only a couple days, as Gregoire wants. And there are questions whether such major changes should be made by outgoing legislators in a lame-duck session, or the new crop of legislators elected in November, who take office next month.

But whether the cuts are made this month, or after the new Legislature meets in January, the cuts could affect to affect public schools, state colleges, services for seniors, the disabled and workers who don’t have health care benefits at their job and rely on the state for the Basic Health plan, Murray said.

“What programs I can’t answer until I talk to our members,” he said.

Because of falling revenue projections over the last three months, the state faces a gap of about $1.1 billion between the cost of programs and salaries it has on the books and the revenue it can expect to take in between now and the end of June. Gregoire ordered a 6.3 percent across-the-board reduction in October in most departments and programs not protected by the state constitution, but last month’s revenue projection suggests that’s not enough and the state needs to cut more, either this month in a special session or at the beginning of the new session before tackling a budget for 2011-13 in which revenue projections are also down.

Another meeting between Gregoire and legislative leaders is scheduled for Thursday, with more possible on Friday and Saturday.

 

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About this blog

Jim Camden is a veteran political reporter for The Spokesman-Review.


Jonathan Brunt is an enterprise reporter for The Spokesman-Review.


Kip Hill is a general assignments reporter for The Spokesman-Review.

Nick Deshais covers Spokane City Hall for The Spokesman-Review.

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