The Everett Herald editorial board makes a compelling case for a special session of the Legislature to deal with the state’s multi-billion revenue shortfall. The editorial points out that last spring a special session seemed to be inevitable. Not so much now.
Now, even as progress has slowed in the state’s phased Safe Start plans because of a resurgence in daily coronavirus infections — which now is easing after several weeks of increasingly bad numbers — there’s been less urgency among Gov. Jay Inslee and Democratic leaders in the state House and Senate who are more comfortable with a wait-and-see approach to an estimated $8.8 billion shortfall in revenue over the 10 months remaining in the current fiscal year and the 2021-23 fiscal year.
As the editorial acknowledges, there are not unreasonable justifications: waiting for the next forecast, hoping for federal aid, the healthy rainy day fund and the like. Those justifications, however, don’t offset the budget math.
But there are two good reasons why the Legislature should convene for a special session, and do so as soon as possible:
One: The more that lawmakers cut now, the less drastic that cuts might have to be later. (The same goes for new revenue; the sooner a new tax is adopted, the sooner it begins collecting revenue.)
Two: There are areas of spending that must be protected from cuts if we are to have any hope for the shortest possible recession and a return to the strong economy — and the ample revenue — the state enjoyed at the start of the year before the pandemic hit.
“It’s simple math,” said Neil Strege, vice president of Washington Roundtable, a public policy advocacy group of the state’s major private-sector employers, during a recent interview with The Herald Editorial Board. “Every month at a higher spending level leaves a smaller pie to cut from.”
Once again, the Research Council budget brief makes the consequences clear.
Strege referenced a policy brief by the Washington Research Council that estimated the level of cuts to the state budget necessary for this fiscal year, depending on when cuts would be made. Making allowances for areas that the state Office of Financial Management would identify as protected, the state would have to cut 28 percent of its budget if action is delayed until March 1 of next year; or 16 percent by this Dec. 1; or 11 percent by Sept. 1.
The Herald goes on to identify spending priorities that must be protected to promote the recovery, priorities that will be more difficult to hold harmless as time passes and there’s a “smaller pie to cut from.”
If there’s an “unprotected” area of state spending that will be crucial in an economic recovery, it is the higher education programs that prepare high school graduates for future careers. And more than just protected from significant cuts, those programs and institutions should be among the first in line to receive any investments made available by federal pandemic relief aid.
Key to recovery, reports the Roundtable and its education foundation, Partnership for Learning, will be an increase in the number of young adults who complete a post-high school credential, such as a college degree but also workforce training in health care, construction, manufacturing and other career areas.
There’s more in the editorial, which should be read in its entirety. The conclusion:
The pandemic has presented an extraordinary challenge to Washington state residents, businesses and public officials. Waiting in hopes of easier decisions could make confronting its economic effects even more daunting and delay recovery for the state and its 7.6 million residents.