Revenue forecast brings good news for Washington lawmakers

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Washington lawmakers received updated revenue numbers Wednesday that give them more money to work with as they prepare to unveil their two-year state budget proposals.

The numbers released at a meeting of the Economic and Revenue Forecast Council showed state revenues look to increase by about $861 million more than expected through the middle of 2021.

Overall state revenues projected to increase by nearly $307 million for the current two-year budget that ends mid-2019, and the projections for the next two-year budget that ends in mid-2021 look to increase by nearly $554 million, pushing the state budget up to $50.6 billion.

House Democrats have said their budget proposal for the 2019-2021 budget cycle will be released early next week, and Democrats in the Senate will follow with their own proposal.

Democratic Rep. Timm Ormsby, a member of the council and the chief budget writer for the House, said that while the forecast was good news, “it doesn’t take away from the arithmetic problem that we came here with.”

He said that the budget growth won’t support adequately funding programs in addition to maintaining government services at current levels, including billions put toward the state’s education system. A part of that ongoing cost is the investment the Legislature has made in basic education as part of a multi-year court case that was resolved last year.

“This is about paying the bills and the state’s commitment in a wide variety of areas that we continue to make investments to improve the quality of life of the residents of Washington state,” he said about the need for additional revenue.

Sen. John Braun, the ranking Republican member of the Senate Ways and Means Committee and a fellow member of the council, disagreed, saying there are a number of savings options that don’t hurt services in the budget.

“I see no reason, given the growth of our budget, why we would need new taxes, to both maintain current services and make hopefully smart investments,” he said.

In December, Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee proposed a new capital gains tax and an increase in business taxes on services as part of his budget proposal, which included increasing spending on the state’s mental health system and the environment.

Once the Democratic-led Senate and House have both released and passed their budget proposals out of their respective chambers, they will work on negotiating a final budget. The current 105-day legislative session is set to end April 28.