Coming soon: Votes on budgets as Legislature heads toward end of session Thursday

To make tomorrow’s scheduled adjournment, lawmakers need to roll out an operating budget deal today. At The Washington Observer, Paul Queary explains,

Today’s the day the big budget compromises get rolled out in the Legislature. The operating and capital budgets have been in closed-door negotiations for several days as lawmakers wrangled over how to spend a flood of new tax revenue and federal aid.

By rule, the budgets have to be made public, or “sit on the rail” for 24 hours before lawmakers take a final vote on the deal. That has to start today for the Legislature to get out of town tomorrow. We’ll also see the final versions of the state’s big transportation package, including what they’re going to do about that exported fuel tax than ain’t happening.

For those who think it’s important for the public to have another look at the budget plans, the speed and opacity of the final days of a legislative session can be frustrating. Among those, of course, are journalists who cover Olympia, as Queary writes,

In their weekly press conference, leaders of the Democratic majorities in the House and the Senate took a lot of heat from our sisters and brothers in news on Tuesday for the opacity of this process, which doesn’t allow for much journalistic or other scrutiny of the deals before lawmakers have to push the “yea” or “nay” buttons. The leaders argue that the time crunch is a function of the fact that the budget deals have to account for all the other legislation that’s going to pass.

Not sure how satisfying that explanation was. 

The Washington Research Council wonders how much the agreed-upon budget will leave in reserves.

At yesterday’s Democratic leadership media availability, Sen. Billig said that the supplemental operating budget should be made public this afternoon or evening. Additionally, he said,

One of the things that is really important is that we finish with enough reserves that do two things. One: allow us to weather any bad news that may come in the future. . . . The other thing, and Treasurer Pellicciotti has been very vocal about this: We have the best bond rating that we can have and the best ever in the history of the state . . . and we do not want to risk that bond rating, and so that means that we have to have a healthy reserve.

Indeed, during the House floor debate on the operating budget last month, Rep. Stokesbary said that Treasurer Pellicciotti had urged the Legislature to restore the BSA and unrestricted reserves. Rep. Stokesbary read from the treasurer’s email: “I write to re-emphasize three recommendations sent to you by my office earlier this year regarding debt affordability and credit management. . . . Restore total state reserves—BSA and ending fund balance—to a pre-pandemic level of no less than 10% of general fund state revenues.”

It’s the right question, and the WRC response is also correct.

As I wrote last week, the state should transfer this money back to the BSA, where it would be better protected.

More at the WRC post.

 

The WRC also notes that the capital budget compromise will increase spending by 21%.

As we wait for the operating budget conference report, the Legislature has released a compromise capital budget proposal. (It was passed by the House yesterday.) It would increase 2021–23 capital appropriations by $1.507 billion from all funds, which is $260.2 million more than was included in the Senate-passed supplemental capital budget. Revised 2021–23 capital appropriations from all funds would be $8.055 billion—23.0% higher than the enacted biennial capital budget and 54.4% higher than the 2019–21 capital budget (including the 2021 supplemental).

Sure is a lot of money…