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Lawmakers need to look at budget cuts soon

  • Updated
  • 1 min to read

State lawmakers should prepare themselves to act quickly when the official state revenue forecast is released next week.

Preliminary revenue numbers — as in tax collections — indicate the coronavirus pandemic shutdown will result in a $7 billion budget shortfall over the next three years to annual budgets of about $26 billion. It could be worse.

On June 17, the officials numbers are expected to be released, which will show lawmakers exactly how grim the situation is for the budget that kicks in on July 1.

The sooner lawmakers take action, the easier it will be to balance the budget going forward. It’s pretty simple. Money spent on or after July 1 is gone. That means cuts will have to be made elsewhere in the budget.

If lawmakers address the issue before July 1, they will have more options to consider.

Keep in mind that it’s highly probable, if not certain, that K-12 education will not be touched. The Legislature has spent the past few years figuring out how to boost spending for education to fulfill a state Supreme Court order to fully fund basic education, which is mandated by the state constitution. Lawmakers don’t want to find themselves back before the high court.

Sadly, from our perspective, higher education — which has zero constitutional protection — could take the brunt of the cuts.

Again, the sooner lawmakers get serious about cuts, the more money will be available for programs and services legislators, who represent the people, deem the most important.

Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, called on state agencies last month to look at cutting their budgets by 15%. That was a prudent move.

The state Office of Financial Management has started posting online the options for cutting budgets based on Inslee’s order (bit.ly/3dSqJZY).

It’s important for the public to consider these options and offer opinions to lawmakers, who should be the ones making the cuts to the budget they approved.

Now is not the perfect time, to put it mildly, to call 147 lawmakers to Olympia for a special legislative session.

Nevertheless, action needs to be taken before the new fiscal year begins.

As we have noted before in this column, lawmakers can figure out how to meet safely. The technology is available. Even Congress has mostly figured it out.

The best way to have a thorough and open public discussion about the state’s new budget priorities is to call the Legislature into a 30-day session in the next week or so.