Frustration continues to grow over the failure of Gov. Jay Inslee and Democratic leaders in the House and Senate to fully address the state government’s COVID-19-induced budget shortfall — now projected to be close to $9 billion over their next three years.
As each day passes, it will be far more difficult — and financially painful — to balance the budget.
The Washington Research Council, a Seattle-based organization that provides public policy analysis of economic impacts to the state, concludes that if the Legislature had met in June cuts to state spending could have been as low 2.9% and up to 9.4%. But if lawmakers wait until next year to address the budget hole, the spending cuts could go as deep as 28.2%.
To this point, Inslee has been reluctant to use his power to call lawmakers into a special session to address the budget. The governor said he is waiting to see if the federal government provides funding to fill the budget gap. And House Speaker Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, and Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, D-Spokane, are not pushing Inslee to call a special session now.
We don’t see a federal bailout for states happening soon. It’s not a federal priority right now.
However, Billig did tell The Seattle Times in early July that he did expect a special session to be called sometime after August, although he did not have a guess as to when.
Billig sees balancing the budget as an extensive process, like crafting the supplemental budget every other year, so Senate budget writers are now working “so we can be prepared for at least an initial proposal.”
But Jinkins, in an interview with the Tacoma News Tribune Editorial Board this month, said she isn’t opposed to a special session, although she wants legislators to go into a special session thoughtfully.
To her, that means waiting to see what the federal government offers in a stimulus package. This, she said, would guide smart decisions.
“The cuts we make could have negative consequences for our most vulnerable people,” Jinkins said.
Agreed, but the longer lawmakers wait to slow spending, the deeper cuts will have to be.
The Washington Research Council report is unambiguous on that point. So, in reality, Jinkins’ approach will likely hurt those most vulnerable far more in the long run.
While this is not a particularly convenient time for our elected state legislators to go into a special session as it’s now election season (voting starts on Oct. 16), that should not be an excuse for them shirking their duty as House and Senate members.
Each day closer to the election will be even less convenient, and the budget gap will grow wider and wider.
Inslee can’t wait until January to stop the fiscal hemorrhaging. Cuts to spending need to made as soon as possible to avert a disaster in 2021 and beyond.