As strong economy drives record revenues, Legislature must protect taxpayers

Legislators should use projected increases in tax revenues to save taxpayers money in the long term and provide financial stability for the state, according to Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia.

Today’s meeting of the Washington State Economic and Revenue Forecast Council saw the state’s chief economist announce a $348 million increase in projected revenues for the ongoing 2017-19 budget cycle and another $443 million increase for state government’s 2019-21 fiscal biennium.

Last year’s September forecast projected $44 billion in revenue during the 2017-19 budget cycle. Today’s numbers, which continue a streak of positive quarterly revenue forecasts, boost revenues for the same period to $45.6 billion.

Braun, who serves on the council and as the Senate Republican budget leader, offered this statement following the adoption of the latest forecast.

“Everyone in our state can agree it’s great when our economy is strong, with unemployment matching historic lows and state revenues at historic highs. Given that we already have a robust budget in place, the Legislature should be thoughtful and cautious in how to approach using these increased revenues.

“We must think long-term and recognize no economic boom lasts forever. The additional revenue expected allows us to strengthen our budget reserves, which is especially timely after Democrats earlier this year redirected hundreds of millions of dollars intended for emergency savings. We can also make a significant contribution to reducing state government’s long-term pension costs. A large investment in that now would save taxpayers a significant amount of money in the future. This will be even more important now after an analysis of the recent and sizable one-year increases in teacher salaries showed they will add hundreds of millions of dollars in pension costs over the coming years.

“Finally, given the significant scale of tax revenues above and beyond what was already needed to pay for a comprehensive budget, we should always seek opportunities for taxpayers to keep more of their own money. Too often the people who live in our state see politicians racing to see who can spend their tax dollars the fastest. Maintaining trust with taxpayers also means recognizing when state government has enough.”

Lawmakers are set to return to Olympia on Jan. 14 for their annual session, which will include crafting and approving a new 2019-21 state operating budget.