Trial balloons and budget rumors

March 29, 2011

Though we may still see legislative budget proposals this week, it is starting to look like lawmakers are freezing up under the pressure of writing a balanced budget.

According to The Olympian:

"It's too early to say cryonics is at play. But House budget writers are slipping from their schedule for releasing a two-year budget at the state Capitol in Olympia. And signs of movement are getting slower and slower.

But what should anyone have expected? The Legislature's gears were bound to strip against the jagged surface of the March 17 revenue forecast. The forecast knocked away $780 million in expected revenue – leaving a budget hole of about $5.3 billion over 27 months and an extra round of cuts no one was really ready to carve.

'That is the stuff of which meltdowns are made,' Rep. Jeannie Darneille, D-Tacoma, said Monday in the House wings. Darneille stood in an empty chamber as she spoke softly about the impact of losing $800 million in revenue during a budget-writing process that was already, in her words, 'challenging.'

'We still need a budget that can get 50 percent plus one,' she said.

Darneille, the House Ways and Means vice chair, said she could not say if the budget would even emerge this week in draft form. A spokeswoman for the House Democratic Caucus echoed that later in an email that said it was not decided 'which week it will be.' This is the same group that once expected a hearing on its budget plan on March 29.

In other words, House Democrats are divided over what kinds of cuts will get enough votes in the majority House caucus to pass. And they don't even know when they'll know."

Prior to the forceful rejection by the Governor, numerous potential budget gimmick trial balloons were launched as options to "balance" the budget.

Recently the State Treasurer weighed in calling such talk "felony gimmicks."

Unfortunately a new rumor has recently surfaced --- using a rolling special session until after the June revenue forecast.

Combined with the recent introduction of four "title only" bills that could be placeholders for a tax referendum ballot measure, my wheels have begun spinning toward a troubling scenario.

While the situation is very fluid, it isn't hard to imagine the following budget nightmare:

  • Lawmakers continue to struggle to agree to a budget proposal.
  • Taking advantage of the "title only" tax bills floating around, a striker amendment is introduced crafting a referendum to close tax preferences for voters to decide in a June special election.
  • Leadership agrees to a rolling special session pending the result of the June tax referendum and revenue forecast.

While at this point these are simply trial balloons and the speculation of a budget analyst scarred from budget gimmicks of the past, each passing day without a legislative budget proposal causes them to soar higher.

If only to give peace of mind, hopefully legislative leadership will quickly pop this June tax balloon floating in my imagination.