THE state’s official quarterly revenue forecasts are normally bone-dry, with all the intrigue of a nap.
But tomorrow’s presentation by Economic and Revenue Forecast Council will be a hot ticket in Olympia. A boost in projected revenues, as many lawmakers anticipate, could help end a budget stalemate that has now stretched the 2013 Legislative session into its 141st day.
At this point, the Democratic majority in the House and the Republican-dominated Majority Coalition in the Senate are divided more by ideology than money. Their respective budgets differ by about 1 percent, a margin too small to play chicken with a partial shutdown of government on July 1. The revenue forecast may help bridge that last divide.
Before a deal is reached, problems in both budget proposals must be resolved.
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The House Democrats’ budget calls for delaying a payment to schools, punting about $140 million into the next budget cycle. State Treasurer Jim McIntire, a Democrat, called that a “felony gimmick” when it was proposed last year. It is no less so this year.
The House budget also sweeps $394 million from the Public Works Trust Fund, which provides loans to local government for infrastructure projects. Using that money to balance the operating budget is unsustainable, and undermines critical projects.
The Senate budget also has problems, particularly in higher education. Proposals to roll back tuition by 3 percent, and to impose a 20 percent surcharge on international students, both carry unintended negative consequences. In a letter to lawmakers, University of Washington president Michael Young wrote, “international students would be priced out of the UW.”
The Majority Coalition’s education budget also books $54 million in savings from an ambitious proposal to encourage part-time employees to buy health care on the insurance exchange created by the Affordable Care Act. It is an intriguing idea, but needs more vetting before being included in the budget.
Lawmakers are close. Time to clean up problems and come to agreement.