The latest revenue forecast brings good news of $274 million in new money. But lawmakers have much to sort out in the $37 billion state budget.
OLYMPIA — Like other recent state revenue forecasts, Friday’s brought the gift of expected new dollars — in this case, about $274 million for the treasury through 2017.
The numbers, released in a meeting of the state Economic and Revenue Forecast Council, is a tonic for state lawmakers working through a budget shortfall. Republican and Democratic lawmakers don’t fully agree on the extent of the shortfall, but it could reach billions of dollars.
But here’s some context: The projected overall state budget for 2015-17 is expected to be $37 billion.
The extra money in the forecast more than covers the $218 million supplemental 2013-15 budget approved by lawmakers and signed Thursday by the governor. It pays for responses to last summer’s wildfires and the Oso landslide, as well as needed mental-health and social-services spending.
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The new revenue could pay for about one-third of the estimated school materials, supplies and other operating costs that lawmakers must find to fulfill the state Supreme Court-ordered education-funding decision known as McCleary.
Lawmakers may well have to fund other aspects of the McCleary decision this budget cycle, such as all-day kindergarten and smaller K-3 class sizes. Democrats and Gov. Jay Inslee estimate that McCleary will cost about $1.3 billion total for the 2015-17 budget cycle. If that’s the case, $274 million doesn’t go nearly as far.
And then there’s Initiative 1351, the class-size-reduction measure that voters approved in November. If lawmakers don’t suspend or alter it, I-1351 is estimated to cost $2 billion or more through 2017. The new funds would account for about 14 percent of $2 billion.
The new projected revenue would pay more than 60 percent of the $440 million necessary to raise state employee wages under contracts negotiated or arbitrated last year — if lawmakers choose to approve them.
In other words, the newfound treasure isn’t enough to be considered a game-changer.
“It’s a modest increase,” said Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond, and chief budget writer in the Senate, at the council meeting. “But it’s an increase.”
It was Hill’s idea to move up the revenue-forecast meeting by a month, to February from March. That way, budget writers have more time to work during the regular legislative session, which ends April 26.
But the Democratic-controlled House is planning to release its budget as originally schedule in mid-to-late March.
The Republican-controlled Senate will follow.
Rep. Ross Hunter, however, said at the meeting that the earlier forecast would help the process by removing some of the last-minute pressures of budget crafting.
Whether the new revenue would make it any easier to fund the government, Hunter, D-Medina and chief budget writer in the House, said, “It makes a difficult problem slightly less difficult.”