Another call for special legislative session to address budget shortfall; federal funds and furloughs won’t close the gap.

As we noted yesterday, the governor and legislative leaders are downplaying the need for a special session of the Legislature to address the state’s pandemic-induced revenue shortfall. The Walla Walla Union-Bulletin editorial board wrote

The Legislature needs to be called into a special session as soon as possible to address the fiscal problems looming — a projected $8.8 billion state budget shortfall through 2023. About half the shortfall impacts the current $53.3 billion two-year budget.

Gov. Jay Inslee should work on getting the state’s financial house in order rather than wondering whether Congress will pay for a cleaning crew. Economic turmoil caused by the coronavirus pandemic will require action from the Legislature regardless of whether the federal government provides assistance…

Congress should, indeed, provide financial assistance for states that have been financially harmed by the pandemic…

But Congress is as unpredictable as coronavirus. Waiting for lawmakers to decide on relief bills while the state continues to spend money it might not ever have is irresponsible.

Politico’s Morning Tax blog points out that Congressional action remains very much in doubt.

There certainly doesn’t seem to be any sprint toward reaching a fourth or fifth (depending on your definition) Covid-19 relief measure, with McConnell also saying on Monday while back in Kentucky that Senate Republicans would release a new proposal once they return to Washington in two weeks — which would give Congress about two more workweeks to figure something out before expanded unemployment insurance runs out.

In a Seattle Times op-ed, state Sen. Shelly Short, R-Addy, reiterates Republican calls for a special session.

The Washington Research Council points out that the longer the governor and legislative leaders wait to call a special session, the more difficult the budget challenge will be.

It may be technically possible to wait until January to adjust the budget, but the longer the Legislature waits, the harder it will be. Budget cuts would have to be deeper since they would be made over a shorter period. And this assumes that revenue estimates won’t be revised downward again…

The WRC notes,

The governor has taken several actions to improve the balance sheet: He vetoed some of the spending in the 2020 supplemental, implemented a freeze of hiring and some purchases, cancelled some employee raises, and required furloughs for agencies under his control.

Other agencies have also acted to curtail spending, but the WRC concludes,

But these actions will not be sufficient to address the revenue shortfall.

Time’s passing.