State considers ‘budget gimmick’ State lawmakers are looking to use a budget gimmick – a one-day delay in payments to public schools to July 1 – to help close part of the short-term budget gap through June.
“It’s pretty much a foregone conclusion – unless something more attractive comes up,” House Ways and Means Chairman Ross Hunter, D-Medina, said Friday, referring to the payment delay to cover whatever negotiators can’t otherwise agree to in bridging a $566 million shortfall.
But Rep. Gary Alexander, R-Thurston County, said he hasn’t agreed to the postponement of June payments. He said he has agreed to discuss the concept later in the session – after the next caseload report on schools, Medicaid, prisons and other costly programs is announced March 11.
Meanwhile, lawmakers are working on an “early-action” budget-cutting bill to solve the budget shortfall through June and starting work on the larger, two-year shortfall of about $4.6 billion. Hopes for any surprise revenue from a warming economy have dimmed.
The latest state tax collections are down again, Hunter said, referring to a monthly Economy and Revenue Forecast Council report that said January revenue fell by $105.9 million below forecast.
So the state’s near-term financial situation might be getting worse as budget negotiators await the next long-term revenue forecast, due March 17.
“If we were $300 million up in collections over the Christmas season, the doom and gloom around here would be lifted considerably,” Hunter said. “We’re not $300 million up; we’re down, and it’s concerning.”
The House and Senate were trying to resolve seven or eight major differences on their supplemental budget plan. House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan said this week that they resolved a couple of them.
Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said Friday that she thought a final agreement was very close to being hammered out – as soon as Friday evening – and that a vote on those early cuts could come next week.
The Senate approved a version of the budget, also known as Engrossed Substitute House Bill 1086, on Feb. 4. That covered $394 million of the $566 million gap the governor’s budget office is calculating through June. The state faced a more than $1.1 billion gap before last December’s one-day special session.
The delayed payment to schools would push that piece of the state’s current-year obligations into the new two-year budget that starts July 1 and already has an estimated $4.6 billion shortfall. A large part of that shortfall is avoided by not giving pay raises to public employees including teachers, not providing class-size improvement money for public schools, changing pension laws and delaying money for school improvements.
As for the shorter-term budget, Alexander expects to see House-Senate agreements as soon as Monday.
Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688 firstname.lastname@example.org www.theolympian.com/politicsblog