The Legislature’s budget writers have a fresh problem they likely welcome: What to do with an additional $1.4 billion? The fresh money arrived Wednesday morning in the form of the February forecast from the Economic and Revenue Forecast Council.
The state’s fiscal outlook has been steadily brightening since lawmakers adopted the current two-year budget last March. Wednesday’s forecast is about $5 billion larger than the forecast used to write that budget. And that doesn’t count more than $1 billion in unspent federal COVID relief that we like to call Uncle Joe’s Pile of Cash (UJPoC).
House Appropriations Chair Timm Ormsby and Senate Ways, D-Spokane, and Ways and Means Chair Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, who both sit on the forecast council, were cagey when asked how they plan to spend all that extra cash. They noted the warnings from Steve Lerch, the state economist in charge of crafting the foecast, that COVID, inflation and other factors could undermine revenue in the future. Majority Democrats are expected to roll out supplemental budgets next week.
Their Republican counterparts swiftly called for tax relief, an idea that has been floated on both sides of the aisle this year. The new increase isn’t quite enough to cover, for example, Sen. Mona Das’ proposal to lop a full percentage point off the state sales tax. But look for some election-year goodies when the spending plans come out next week.
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