Washington Research Council releases brief analyzing governor’s budget

The Washington Research Council today released a policy brief taking an in-depth look at Gov. Inslee’s proposed 2015-17 budget. The governor’s budget, released last month, proposes a 15 percent increase in state spending, largely fueled by new taxes on carbon emissions and capital gains. As the WRC points out,

Gov. Inslee’s proposal faces significant challenges in the Legislature. The capital gains tax and cap and trade program proposals are highly controversial. Indeed, the Senate has adopted a rule that will require a two-thirds vote for any new tax to be brought to the floor.

It may be a long legislative session. The WRC concludes:

Before resolving to raise taxes, legislators will need to decide what policy choices are the most important—this is just the opening bid in the budget process.

Complicating the budget challenge this year is Initiative 1351. The Research Council notes that the governor did not fully fund the voter-approved class size reduction measure.

To comply with the initiative’s phase-in schedule, it is estimated that $2.0 billion must be spent in 2015– 17. Gov. Inslee proposes to change the phase-in requirements so they match the class size reductions the state already plans for grades K–3. The governor proposes fully funding I-1351 in the following biennium. Such a change would require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature.

Lawmakers are responding to this latest unfunded initiative by proposing a constitutional amendment that would prevent similar measures in the future.

Nearly 40 senators are supporting a proposed constitutional amendment that would prevent budget-busting ballot initiatives from being filed unless supporters also include a way to pay for it.

Sen. Joe Fain, a Republican from Auburn, says that under the proposed measure he introduced Tuesday, supporters of initiatives that would eliminate specific taxes also wouldn’t be allowed to collect signatures if the measure doesn’t specify which state programs would be removed or cut.

Jason Mercier at Washington Policy Center writes that the measure, SJR 8201,

…is a serious and interesting idea to keep the budget from being blown up by an unfunded initiative mandate, but as currently written it may have the effect of being a chainsaw when all that is needed is a scalpel.

Unquestionably, 1351 made a tough budget session much tougher. Constitutional amendments require a legislative supermajority and voter approval… a high bar to meet, particularly when the measure involves the scope of citizens’ initiatives. But the debate is worthwhile.