Although state government expects to take in $2.3 billion in additional tax revenue, the Senate Democrat majority is still looking to raid budget reserves using what Sen. John Braun called a felony budget gimmick. Braun said the Democrats’ proposed amendment to Senate Bill 6614 violates the spirit and intent of voter-approved protections that place extraordinary revenue growth into the budget stabilization account, more widely known as the rainy day fund.
“After the Great Recession exposed Olympia’s failure to capture and protect unanticipated revenue, the voters approved critically important safeguards against overspending in good economic times,” said Braun, R-Centralia, who serves as ranking minority member on the Senate Ways and Means Committee. “This proposal from the Senate majority creates a constitutional crisis by rejecting the overwhelming demand from 67 percent of voters for fiscal responsibility and accountability. It sets an incredibly dangerous precedent for future state budget decisions.”
The Democrats’ proposed amendment to the bill would funnel $935 million in property tax revenues to the education legacy trust account. Redirecting the funds lowers general fund revenues, which Braun says circumvents the spirit of the law by reducing the amount of money going into the rainy day fund by more than $700 million.
“Washington has earned incredibly strong marks from national debt rating agencies due in part to our recent commitment to fiscal responsibility and maintaining responsible reserves,” said Braun. “Rating agencies frequently cite our strong fiscal controls and protected budget reserves. Looting the rainy day fund would hurt our reputation and standing on a national level. This plan has incredibly negative consequences for our state treasurer when selling bonds and would harm school districts and local cities and counties.”
A series of projections from the state’s chief economist indicate the state will take in $2.3 billion more than was anticipated when the Legislature approved its 2017-19 state operating budget in June 2017. The budget grew 14 percent from the previous spending plan largely due to K-12 education funding increases. While $1.6 billion of those funds would be unrestricted, under current law and constitutional restrictions $700 million have to be deposited in the constitutionally protected budget stabilization account.
“Voters said decisively many years ago that they wanted a higher threshold for using these extraordinary revenues after seeing the significant problems and dramatic cuts that came as a result of overspending ahead of the Great Recession,” said Braun. “The alternative budget our side has offered clearly demonstrates we can provide $1 billion in property-tax relief, protect our historic investments in public education, improve mental-health treatment, reduce tuition and much more without raiding the budget reserves. Constitutional protections for budget reserves shouldn’t be viewed as simply an inconvenience for budget writers. They are in place to protect important state services and taxpayers.”
Voters in every county approved Senate Joint Resolution 8206 in 2011, to protect extraordinary revenue during times of strong economic growth. Using the money generally requires a 60 percent vote in the Legislature.
Lawmakers are on the 58th day of this year’s 60-day session. While a supplemental operating budget is likely to be approved in the remaining days, a plan negotiated between the Senate and House of Representatives has yet to be made public.