Balanced budget clock: Day 181 and counting

March 21, 2012

It has been 181 days (and counting) since Governor Gregoire's September 22 press conference last year calling on lawmakers to balance the state's budget.

Today marks day 10 of the 1st Special Session of 2012 to balance the budget (this is the fifth special session since 2009 for budget work). Already Governor Gregoire is hinting at the prospect of yet another special session as noted by the Spokesman Review:

[Gregoire] also has at least begun to consider the prospect the logjam will not break before time runs out on this 30-day special session. Another one would be needed, she said, because the only other option is for her to implement across-the-board cuts for all state agencies and 'I can't make it work.'

She'd call them back, but not necessarily right away. And she cautioned against any plan to wait for the June economic forecast, in hopes that state revenues might show some kind of uptick. They might also take a hit if gasoline prices continue to go up, she said.

Despite the discussions about another special session, based on this report from the Everett Herald, some work must be occurring since many Senators are collecting per diem:

Though the state Senate did not meet once in the first week of the special session, plenty members collected per diem for those seven days.

Payouts totaling $16,830 were made to 33 senators for the period of March 12-18, according to information from Secretary of the Senate's Office. The other 16 senators did not request any per diem.

Senators are entitled to $90 a day for 'session subsistence' which is such things as food and lodging. It can be collected for any day in a special session, including weekends. Reimbursement for mileage is covered under a different Senate account.

Twenty-one senators received the maximum of $630 for the first week, according to the records. Another dozen members sought per diem for fewer than seven days . . .

State representatives also are eligible for per diem. Their requests for payment are not due until the end of the month.

So where exactly do we stand on the budget? Here are the Key Findings from our budget policy note released today:

  1. Lawmakers are currently in the fifth special session in only three years to complete work on the budget.

  2. The House-passed budget would result in a $2 billion shortfall in the next budget period.

  3. The bipartisan Senate-passed budget would result in a $545 million budget reserve in the next budget period.

  4. Both the House and Senate budgets utilize what the State Treasurer refers to as “felony gimmicks.”

  5. To help ensure future budgets are not adopted that immediately result in a shortfall for the next biennium, lawmakers should also enact budget sustainability reforms.

Of the two current budgets, only the Senate budget succeeds in not resulting in a projected shortfall for 2013–15 while moving closer to long-term sustainability. Lawmakers should use the framework of the Senate budget as the base for negotiations while working to remove the proposal to skip a pension payment from the final agreement while also enacting comprehensive pension reform.

The final budget adopted should avoid “felony gimmicks” and not use skipped or delayed payments of any kind. To help ensure future budgets are not adopted that immediately result in a shortfall for the next biennium lawmakers should also continue negotiations on the proposed four-year balanced budget amendment (SJR 8222) that already passed the Senate by a vote of 36–12 and the six-year budget outlook reform (HB 2607) adopted by the House by a vote of 97–1.