Morning Fizz: The Latest Numbers
Caffeinated News & Gossip featuring data, e-cigarettes, and parks.
1. As measured by the recent Prop. 1 vote on Metro bus funding, the 11th Legislative District (South Seattle, Tukwila and the southern part of Renton) isn't your typical tax-friendly Seattle district. They went 69.12 against the bus funding measure—a 0.1 cent sales tax and $60 vehicle licensce fee— while places like North Seattle's 46th Legislative District went 58.51 percent for the measure (and Central Seattle's 43rd came in at 78 percent 'yes.')
So, supporters of the Metropolitan Parks District, a .33 cent per $1,000 assessed property value tax increase on the August ballot for permanent parks funding, should be thrilled: The grouchy 11th District Democrats voted to approve the measure last night by 76 percent. Seattle's 34th, 36th, 37th, 43rd District Democrats, and 32nd had already endorsed the measure; the 46th didn't take a position.
2. There's plenty of data to pore over in the Washington State Economic and Revenue Forecast Council's latest report (released yesterday).
A data point that jumped out at Fizz:
Seattle area inflation has edged up and now slightly exceeds the national average. Core inflation in Seattle was 2.3 percent. compared to 1.8 percent for the nation.
Meanwhile, there was this:
3. Speaking of the Forecast Council's latest numbers, we are compelled to tweak last week's story about the looming budget crunch. But only slightly.
Revenues for the 2015-17 biennium are expected to increase $241 million, bringing total revenue to $36.6 billion; that's more than the current 2013-15 $34 billion budget, but with inflation and an aging population in need of more services, the new money isn't even enough to sustain the state's current financial obligations.
“While the revenue increase is welcome news, we still face a significant budget challenge in our next budget,” said David Schumacher, director of the Office of Financial Management.
“The overall picture is only slightly changed since our previous forecast,” the council's executive director Steve Lerch said in a press release.
Despite these small increases, according to the Office of Financial Management the state is still looking at a deficit of about $3 billion during 2015-2017.
In addition to a pre-existing $1 billion shortfall, the state has to find another $1.2 to $2 billion to adequately fund public schools as mandated by the Washington Supreme Court. In its landmark 2012 McCleary decision, the court ruled that the State of Washington was failing to “make ample provision” for public education. It gave the legislature until 2018 to adequately fund K-12 education, and earlier this month the court threatened to hold the state in contempt when the legislature admitted it wasn't on track to comply with McCleary.
Andy Nicholas, senior fiscal analyst at the left-leaning Washington State Budget and Policy Center, said that the new forecast doesn’t fundamentally alter the state’s budget situation.
“Broadly speaking, no, it does not change anything,” he said, particularly given the additional spending required by the McCleary ruling. The only way the state government can meet its budget obligations, according to Nicholas, is to increase revenues---which means raising taxes. (Washington has no income tax, and is 35th in the nation for amount of taxes collected relative to residents’ personal income.)
“The tax system is the real culprit,” he said, calling it “outdated and unequitable.”
But tax reform may be as difficult as it sounds. As PubliCola reported in March, state Republicans are angling to fund education by defunding other public services. A bill by Sen. Andy Hill (R-45, Redmond) would require that two-thirds of all new revenue go to fund education---and not, for instance, mental health services or cost-of-living increases for workers. The BPC has been highly critical of the plan, calling it "wishful thinking" that simply shuffles money around without addressing core fiscal issues.
4. As e-cigarette use continues to grow, here's another piece of economic data worth considering from the forecast: Cigarette tax revenue has been reduced by $18.2 million in the current biennium and $23.2 million in the next biennium due to the increase in sales lost to purchases of e-cigarettes, OFM said yesterday.
Don't worry, one vice for another: Pot revenue is expected to bring in between $90 and $100 million per biennium.