Politics & Government

Shortfall may force lawmakers’ return

Gov. Chris Gregoire fears legislators might need to come back to Olympia later this year to adjust the 2009-11 budget to meet expected further drops in state revenues.

“I don’t know if we can get through to next January,” Gregoire told The News Tribune editorial board on Monday.

She pointed out the most recent monthly revenue collections for April were down $41 million over projected forecasts of $1 billion. That compares with a $50 million drop in the previous month.

“Though small, it is telling for the June forecast,” she said. “We anticipate the June forecast will be down and we have no reason to believe the September forecast won’t be down.”

Though Gregoire didn’t specifically call for a special session, the Legislature is the budget master. Revenues must meet the two-year $35 billion budget or something has to give or be cut.

Last Friday, Gregoire decided not to call a one-day special legislative session after House and Senate leaders couldn’t agree on a limited agenda. She had wanted lawmakers to focus on three bills tied to the budget, which didn’t get approved in the last hours of the session.

Gregoire said she has one budget tool if she wants to use it. The Legislature left $570 million the state’s reserve fund that she can tap without lawmakers’ approval. The state’s Rainy Day Fund has another $260 million but she can’t draw on it without legislative approval.

“We are going to have a tough go,” she reiterated, adding that, given the economy, the future of state revenues doesn’t look good either.

“Anyone familiar with this budget will tell that ... in two years there is potential for an even more challenging budget,” she said.

For starters and not even considering future loss of federal dollars, Gregoire said, there is “$4.5 billion of one-time spending that is going to hit us in two years.” The majority of that spending is in federal stimulus money that will go away by then.

Gregoire called the recent legislative session “one of the most difficult” in decades and she gave legislators credit for getting the budget job done and making hard program cuts.

Lawmakers passed the budget by juggling programs and transfers to erase a $9 billion deficit between expected revenue and spending. Gregoire has until May 19 to approve the entire budget.

“They took tough votes,” she said. “Votes they never anticipated in their lives they would take.”

Mike Archbold: 253-597-8692