Gov. Chris Gregoire is calling lawmakers back to Olympia for a special session focused on dealing with the state’s $1.3 billion budget shortfall, advisers said Wednesday night.
Gregoire budget director Marty Brown said that the governor is still finalizing details of the session but will make a formal announcement this morning. He and spokesman Cory Curtis said it’s likely to begin at the end of November — after the state gets a new revenue forecast.
State officials projected last week that Washington faces a $1.3 billion shortfall in the current budget cycle because economic conditions have not improved as initially anticipated, and that’s if the Legislature drains a rainy-day fund and leaves no money as a buffer. Lawmakers have talked about the need to prepare $2 billion worth of changes.
The Legislature is already scheduled to return in January, but Brown said the hole gets deeper every day that goes by.
“We’ve got to get to work,” Brown said. The special session will last 30 days, and Curtis said it’s possible lawmakers will need that whole period to complete their work.
Gregoire has already asked state agencies to prepare for cuts as high as 10 percent. Those plans will be finalized today. She has also initiated discussions with top lawmakers and how to approach the new session.
The bleak budget outlook comes months after Gregoire and lawmakers relied on $4.6 billion in projected spending cuts in order to fill a shortfall.
Budget writers have declined to discuss specific ideas on how to manage the latest budget gap, but Democrats have talked about exploring ways to raise revenue, including the repeal of tax breaks. They argue that revenue can help the state manage the rising costs of people attending school and relying on services during the recession. Republicans have already vowed to oppose any tax increases, and they have the power to do so because of a voter-approved initiative that requires a two-thirds majority to raise taxes.
Curtis said economic forecasters have told the governor that there’s a chance the November revenue forecast will be even worse than the one released a week ago. Because of the challenges of forecasting what will happen with the economy over an 18-month period, the state has issued optimistic and pessimistic deviations that could leave the state with roughly $2 billion more or $2 billion less than projections.