OLYMPIA — Legislators have $554 million more to spend than originally projected for the next biennium, according to the March review released by the Economic and Revenue Forecast Council on Wednesday.
The state revenue increased by $307 million for the 2017-19 budget and by $554 million for the upcoming 2019-21 budget. This totals $861 million in additional revenue, almost a billion dollars, for the state.
Lawmaker opinions on what should be done with this increase revenue differ greatly.
“This is good news, but it doesn’t take away from the arithmetic problem that we came here with,” said Rep. Timm Ormsby, D-Spokane, “which was maintaining our commitment to solutions for example on K-12, mental health, and our employees, and this reduces our problem statement but doesn’t eliminate it.”
In order to meet current commitments, the state needs additional revenue, Ormsby said.
The McCleary decision in 2012 required the legislature to fully fund “basic education.” The Legislature had been found in contempt of court until 2018, when it adopted a plan to put billions of dollars toward K-12 education in coming years.
However, Republicans say they think the current revenue is sufficient to fund state needs.
“Even before this good news, I think that we are in the best shape we have been in certainly in the last decade,” said Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia. “... I’d say we have three possibly four billion dollars we could spend on new policy without new taxes, at this point.”
Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kamala, echoed Braun by saying he thinks they need to balance the budget within existing revenues.
To Ormsby, while this growth is exciting, it all goes to fund prior commitments to education.
“We have experienced revenue growth, unanticipated revenue growth, and I would just observe that that entire revenue growth that has occurred since we left town last year is all going to our McCleary solution that is a bipartisan, bicameral solution, so all of that revenue growth is committed to our McClearly solution,” said Ormsby.
Also, potential economic impacts due to the grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX were mentioned in the forecast but without a completed investigation or current changes to the production schedule, it is an unknown factor. Boeing is a major employer in the state.
The numbers released Wednesday do not vary heavily from the forecasts in November. Overall, Washington’s economy continues to outperform the U.S. economy as a whole, but by smaller margins than in the past.