For the first time in six years, the state Legislature won’t have a budget shortfall to fix when it goes into session next month.
Multi-billion-dollar shortfalls, and corresponding fights over taxes and spending cuts, had seemingly become the norm after the Great Recession hit in 2008.
This time, lawmakers could have some pocket change to spend.
In his spending plan released Tuesday, Gov. Jay Inslee proposed boosting the $33.6 billion state budget by roughly $250 million, with most of the money paying for “mandatory” costs such as increased enrollment in public schools, more inmates in prisons and the costs of fighting wildfires over the summer.
But the governor also proposed spending $55 million on new programs, including $3 million for teacher mentoring, $7 million to deal with prison capacity and $13 million for information technology upgrades. In the scheme of the overall budget that amount of money is considered a rounding error.
The governor’s budget office also warned the respite will be short lived, arguing that economic growth is not generating enough tax revenue to keep pace with state expenses. By many estimates the state needs to pump more than $1 billion into K-12 education when the Legislature writes a new budget in 2015 to help meet a state Supreme Court mandate.
There’s also growing pressure for the Legislature to provide pay increases for state workers, who haven’t received a cost-of-living increase since 2008.