State revenue is unprecedented, but it’s still not enough

  • Thursday, November 29, 2018 12:41pm
  • Opinion

Fifty billion dollars.

It will soon be the subject of many conversations in hallways, hearing rooms and other Capitol hangouts as it is the amount of revenue Washington’s revved-up economy is expected to produce for use in the next state budget.

And $50 billion is a milestone figure.

No governor or Legislature has ever had that much money to spend on government services and programs.

To put in perspective, when I moved to Washington in early 2004, the economic forecast called for $22.9 billion in tax collections in the entire two-year budget cycle.

Now, the economy is already generating more than that every fiscal year.

As things stand now, Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee and the Democrat-led majorities in the House and Senate will have $50 billion to parse out in the 2019-21 budget they must adopt next year. That’s without touching the state’s $1.63 billion in cash reserves or $1.6 billion rainy day fund.

But — and you knew this was coming — they say it’s not enough.

The price of maintaining the same level of government-funded services is going up as the state’s population grows. And a few bills, like those tied to education funding and the McCleary case, are still getting paid off.

Already this year Inslee and Democratic leaders are openly expressing a desire to find new streams of revenue because there is more to cover than simply what in Olympiaspeak are known as the “carryforward” and “maintenance” level expenses of government.

For example, a few agencies need a bailout for unexpected debts.

Like the state Public Disclosure Commission. Its lawyer, the Office of the Attorney General, is churning up huge bills in pursuit of alleged scofflaws of Washington’s campaign finance laws like Tim Eyman of Mukilteo.

And the Washington State Patrol has racked up a few hundred thousand dollars in overtime and other expenses safeguarding Inslee as he bounded around the country campaigning for gubernatorial candidates and, maybe, laying the groundwork for his own 2020 bid for president.

Those bills are too small to not be paid.

What’s really going to drive the debate in Olympia are items with large price tags.

For example, Inslee’s staff negotiated new collective bargaining agreements with a slew of unions. If funded, most state employees will get raises of at least 6 percent in the next two years. The cost is $1.9 billion.

Mental and behavioral health services is another big ticket. A settlement in the Trueblood case requires the state to speed up evaluation of the mental competency of people accused of crimes and get them into treatment faster.

That won’t be cheap. The Department of Social and Health Services is looking for roughly $330 million in this biennium as a down payment on tearing down and rebuilding Western State Hospital, one of two state psychiatric hospitals. The cost of that alone could reach $800 million.

And demands will be made for more dollars to reduce homelessness, combat opioid addiction, improve forest management and protect orcas.

Inslee’s approach to making ends meet will be revealed in December when he proposes a budget for the two-year period that starts July 1, 2019. Lawmakers will consider his recommendations in the course of drafting their own spending plan in the 105-day legislative session beginning in January.

When Inslee met with The Daily Herald’s editorial board in October, he would not say what he’s contemplating. He said it’s a challenge and lawmakers are “going to have to look for money from other sources” because he won’t let them cut core government services.

While $50 billion is going to be talked about a lot very soon, so, too, is how it’s not enough.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@herald net.com. Twitter: @dospueblos

More in Opinion

Our current ‘Gilded Age’ benefits only the super wealthy

“There are two things that are important in politics. The first is… Continue reading

Is Inslee prepping for a presidential run?

Can a little known thoroughbred from the Pacific Northwest capture the 2020… Continue reading

The future simply borrows from the past

“History is always unfinished in the sense that the future always uses… Continue reading

Five stars, best books and King County Libraries’ commitment to intellectual freedom

Library Journal recently announced its 2018 Star Libraries as rated by the… Continue reading

‘Logical fallacies’ help each of us defend our arguments

What are logical fallacies? Ross Weisman’s article, “Is Your Reasoning Sound? A… Continue reading

Trump helped erase voter complacency

The Nov. 6 midterms set a record number for voters: An estimated… Continue reading

Midterm winners and losers

A surge in voter interest, a swell in the ranks of Democratic… Continue reading

‘We the people’ set our national direction Nov. 6

By the time you read this, you will either be in celebration… Continue reading

Thank you for another successful book sale

The Maple Valley Library Guild wishes to thank the community for its… Continue reading

Today’s autocrats blaming the West for their woes

As a youth in my late teens, I joined a strict religious… Continue reading

KCLS aids citizen engagement during elections, year-round

The first Tuesday in November is Election Day—a consequential day for our… Continue reading

I’m voting for Bill Ramos this election

I have been following the race for the 5th Legislative District since… Continue reading