OLYMPIA — Fueled by a surge in state sales tax collections and other improving revenue numbers, Washington’s coffers continue to swell, as parts of the economy revive and the COVID-19 pandemic begins to gradually recede.
An additional $838 million in existing taxes is expected for the current two-year state operating budget, according to a new forecast by the Washington State Economic Revenue and Forecast Council. That budget cycle ends June 30.
Then, the council projects almost $1.8 billion more than previously expected in existing taxes for the 2021-23 budget cycle.
It’s a legitimate chunk of change for that roughly $59 billion operating budget approved by state lawmakers and Gov. Jay Inslee this spring. It takes effect July 1.
The operating budget funds schools, parks, wildfire response, prisons and mental health services and other programs. In addition to that, the state has budgeted an extra $10 billion in federal COVID-19 aid to help businesses and families and businesses recover from the pandemic.
In a Wednesday meeting of the forecast council, Steve Lerch said the gains come from a variety of sources. The biggest among them is the boost in sales tax collections, said Lerch, who is director of the council. Sales taxes fund about half of the budget.
“The majority of this is sales tax,” Lerch said. “Retail sales activity has been very, very strong.”
Additionally, employment numbers outpaced the predictions made in March, Lerch said, and personal income is likewise higher than was expected.
Meanwhile, residential real estate transactions and cannabis sales are down from their earlier pandemic peaks, Lerch said, but still remain elevated. That boosted future projections for both cannabis taxes and the state home seller tax.
Republicans, who are in the minority in the Legislature, have unsuccessfully resisted several tax increases pushed by Democrats in recent year. Given the new forecast, they called again on Wednesday for tax cuts.
“It think it’s time to start looking at tax relief,” said Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, at the meeting.
Meanwhile, Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island and chief Democratic budget writer in the Senate, cautioned that about taking too much from just one forecast.
The state isn’t likely to do anything with the new funds this year. Another forecast will be conducted in the fall. Lawmakers and Inslee will consider it when writing next year’s supplemental budget, which tweaks the spending blueprint.
“Certainly this is good news,” she said at Wednesday’s meeting. ” But I wouldn’t start writing a budget based on these numbers.”