This Washington

State Budget Primer: $4 Billion in the Red

New Revenue, but new costs.

By Josh Feit November 24, 2014

The good news is that while it will cost about $1.9 billion extra in the next biennium to cover the increasing costs of funding state services—public safety, health care, K-12 education—there's $2.7 billion in new revenue coming in.

The bad news—and it's bad—is this: That $800 million cushion ($2.7 billion minus $1.9 billion) quickly vanishes when you add up additional expenses on the list, including the pending $1.5 billion estimated McCleary bill.

In addition to McCleary which puts the budget in a $700 million hole to start, here's what else the budget has to deal with:

• $1 billion in pensions and bond debt payments

• $580 million in collective bargaining agreements

• And an unknown cost for meeting a Washington State Supreme Court ruling that said it was unconstitutional to house psychiatric patients in emergency rooms. In other words, the state needs to increase funding for mental health services.

All in all, the low-ball figure—$1.5 billion in immediate McCleary costs, $1.6 billion in legally obligated costs (pensions, collective bargaining), plus $1.4 billion for the I-1351 class-size measure—puts the state around $4 billion in the red. 

In light of this math problem, the lefty think tank, the Washington Budget & Policy Center, explains the the $37 billion budget situation this way:

Two-thirds of the budget is protected by either the state Constitution or federal laws and cannot be cut. The remaining third of the budget includes funding for community colleges and universities, public safety, nutritional assistance, help for people with disabilities, childcare, housing, services for foster children, and supports that help people find jobs. Severe cuts to these investments would do great damage to the state economy and would impose devastating costs on struggling families from Sequim to Spokane.

Scary footnotes: The McCleary bill could actually be as high as $3.5 billion if you consider outstanding teacher compensation. Additionally, in the 2017-19 biennium there's still another $1 billion in new McCleary costs and about $2.7 billion in 1351 costs. 


Filed under
Show Comments