As Legislature moves into final stage of budget development, sustainability concerns raised.

The Washington Research Council reports the Senate and House budget committees increased projected spending from the originally proposed levels. Of the Senate Ways and Means Committee’s work, the WRC writes,

…the Senate Ways & Means (W&M) Committee approved the chair’s 2020 supplemental operating budget proposal. The committee adopted several amendments, which (if my calculations are correct) add about $8.9 $9.2 million to the proposed spending increases for 2019–21. This would bring proposed 2019–21 appropriations from funds subject to the outlook plus the workforce education investment account to $54.0212 billion (an increase of 20.9 percent over 2017–19 spending).

And of the House Approriations Committee action,

…the House Appropriations Committee approved the chair’s supplemental operating budget proposal, with amendments. Adopted amendments add $28.5 million to the proposed appropriations increases for 2019–21 (in terms of funds subject to the outlook plus workforce education investment account, or NGFO+WEIA).

With these changes, revised NGFO+WEIA appropriations for 2019–21 would be $54.090 billion—$68.5 million higher than the appropriations passed by the Senate Ways & Means Committee.

Again, we think it’s likely the differences between the chambers will be easily resolved. Republican legislators have raised sustainability concerns. The News Tribune reports,

Republican legislators on Tuesday took aim at the Democrats’ budget proposals, saying the party that controls the House and Senate is risking budget cuts when the next economic downturn strikes.

“There’s a real danger of coming to a crashing halt in the future, either near or far, because we know the kind of budget growth that we are going to be seeing is not going to be sustainable,” said House Republican Leader J.T. Wilcox of Yelm.

The counter:

Democrats stressed that their operating budget proposals do not rely on new taxes or fund transfers.

Republicans have proposed tax relief and note the sizable increase in state spending in the current budget.

State Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, said the spending increase in the two-year operating budget will reach 20 percent under the Democrats’ budgets.

“Our colleagues on the other side of the aisle in the Senate talk about ‘putting people first.’ I always say this is about ‘putting government first,’ “ Braun said. “We are growing the state government at twice the rate of people’s personal income. That’s just wrong. We shouldn’t do that.”

A big unknown, of course, is the economic effect of the coronavirus, which has economists elevating recession fears.

As the coronavirus outbreak enters a potentially dangerous new phase, with cases widening in Europe and expected to spread in the United States, economists have begun to raise their estimates for the risk of a global recession and fallout to the American economy.

Economists say the stock market sell-off in recent days reflects a reassessment of the likely magnitude of the hit to corporate earnings in the virus’s wake, suggesting the economic pain could last longer and the recovery may not be as swift as initially thought.

“Businesses of all kinds, in a lot of places, being impaired really (made) me skeptical that this is something that would fade quickly and from which we would recover quickly,” said Carl Tannenbaum, chief economist at Northern Trust in Chicago. “And that realization is now cascading through both to investors and to policymakers that this is a situation that is more serious than initially thought.”


The U.S. economy grew at an annual rate of 2.1% in the final quarter of last year, but damage from the spreading coronavirus is likely depressing growth in the current quarter and for 2020 as a whole.

A time for fiscal restraint.