Will Washington really punt budget action until January?
Last updated 7/13/2020 at 10:13am
What once seemed inevitable is now growing unlikely – a special session to balance the state’s budget. This is why it was so important to act before the new spending increases took effect on July 1. Once we started the new fiscal year, the likelihood of a special session dropped. By waiting until August, the September revenue forecast is just around corner. Then after September, the November election is just a jump away. Then the temptation to delay until January becomes even stronger. Delaying further, however, will make the necessary changes much harder to implement.
According to the Seattle Times: “Even as officials chart their latest course to navigate the pandemic, Inslee’s office Wednesday evening suggested the governor may not ultimately call lawmakers back this year for a special legislative session.”
Seattle Times reporter Joe O’Sullivan also tweeted yesterday: “WA House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan says no special legislative session this summer.”
Meanwhile, our friends in California have already acted to address their budget problem. In late June, lawmakers in California sent Governor Newsom a budget that reduced spending, including a 10 percent reduction in pay for state workers and canceling pay raises that were scheduled to take effect in July.
There continue to be bipartisan calls in Washington for immediate budget action.
Washington state Treasurer Duane Davidson (R) recently said: “I contend that a call for an emergency legislative session should take place as soon as possible to see what the Legislature can do. This type of severe budget reduction traditionally derives from legislative action rather than such unprecedented executive order as we are seeing now.”
Rep. Mike Chapman (D-Port Angeles) also told me this week: “I have asked the Governor to call a special session. I had hoped to have one before additional spending started in July. I am now supporting an early August special session to address the budget shortfall and economic distress throughout our state, especially in rural districts like mine.”
Who else expects the state to act responsibly? Bond rating companies. From Moody’s June 30, 2020 credit rating for Washington:
“We expect that the state will continue to address budget gaps that emerge... absent corrective measures, the revenue shortfall would result in a rapid depletion of the state’s reserves. The state legislature is expected to meet in a special session to amend the budget for the 2019-2021 biennium in response to the new revenue projections.”
Instead of doing this and enacting savings over a 12-month period, the current budget plan in the state appears to be spending down the reserves and trying to cram all the savings into the remaining six to three months of the budget. Or, massively increase taxes (yet again).
— Tri-Cities-based Jason Mercier is the government reform director at Washington Policy Center.