State lawmakers could tap "rainy day" fund
Lawmakers may tap Washington's new "rainy day fund" for the first time next year to help balance the state budget, leading Democrats said...
OLYMPIA — Lawmakers may tap Washington's new "rainy day fund" for the first time next year to help balance the state budget, leading Democrats said.
The savings account was created last year after voters approved a constitutional amendment. It gets 1 percent of the state's general tax collections each year, and the money is hard for lawmakers to access.
But it's easier to tap the rainy day fund if job growth is slow, and forecasts now say that's a possibility. Top budget-writing lawmakers in the state House and Senate say the account's estimated $728 million is likely to be up for grabs.
The Legislature meets in January to write a state budget for the 2009-2011 fiscal year, and nonpartisan Senate analysts predict they'll be staring at a $2.7 billion budget deficit.
"It's pretty clear that things are not going to get better soon," Senate budget chairwoman Margarita Prentice, D-Renton, told The News Tribune of Tacoma. "It looks as if we will (tap the rainy day fund). We can't commit to a figure, but I think it's pretty clear for now that everything has to be on the table."
"I can't speak for the caucus, but I would personally do it," said Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, the top deputy on the House's budget committee.
Republican lawmakers, who are in the minority, are more skeptical of the idea.
Senate Republican budget chief Joseph Zarelli, R-Ridgfield, said Democratic leaders should to trim the budget rather than tap the rainy day fund. He blamed the Democratic majority's increased spending in recent years for helping to set up a deficit in the first place.
"If you use your savings, you're just compounding your problem," Zarelli told The News Tribune. "If you spend a half a billion dollars more than you're collecting, your problem will be worse down the road. That's how we got where we are now."
Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire has said she's designing a new two-year state budget that focuses on savings, not new taxes. Her budget director, Victor Moore, said it's too soon to tell if the rainy day fund could be part of the equation.
In good economic times, the rainy day fund is difficult to access: It takes an emergency declaration by the governor, or a 60 percent vote in the state House and Senate.
But if annual job growth is less than 1 percent, lawmakers only need a simple majority vote to tap the fund. A forecast earlier this month said job growth was expected to tick up by just 0.6 percent this fiscal year.
Democrats outnumber Republicans 63-35 in the House and 32-17 in the Senate. That balance could change in the fall elections, but Democrats are expected to at least retain their majorities.
The state Economic and Revenue Forecast Council's latest projection of tax collections is scheduled to be reported Thursday.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
UPDATE - 09:46 AM
Exxon Mobil wins ruling in Alaska oil spill case
NEW - 7:51 AM
Longview man says he was tortured with hot knife
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.
Furniture & home furnishings
POST A FREE LISTING