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Originally published October 25, 2011 at 5:05 PM | Page modified October 26, 2011 at 8:23 AM

Amendment would require state to save more

A state constitutional amendment placed on the November ballot by the Legislature would require the state to set aside more money during economic booms. That rainy-day account could then be tapped only under certain circumstances, such as a natural disaster or another recession.

Seattle Times Olympia bureau

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Even in the depths of the ongoing state budget crisis, lawmakers are thinking about the next economic boom.

A state constitutional amendment placed on the November ballot by the Legislature would require the state to set aside more money during economic booms. That money could then be tapped only under certain circumstances, such as a natural disaster or another recession.

Senate Joint Resolution 8206 is aimed at dealing with unusually rapid growth in state revenue, similar to what happened in the boom years leading up to the recent recession, said Sen. Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, the prime sponsor of the measure.

Zarelli said he views that kind of tax revenue increase as one-time money. "This says we're going to save a portion of that into the rainy-day fund," he said.

He maintains that if the amendment had been in place before the recession hit, the Legislature would have had an easier time handling budget shortfalls.

Zarelli was one of the main backers of a constitutional amendment, approved by voters in 2007, that created the state rainy-day account.

The state, as a result, already sets aside 1 percent of general-fund revenue each fiscal year into the rainy-day account. The money can be used during economic downturns and emergencies, or by a three-fifths vote of the Legislature.

Senate Joint Resolution 8206 would send more money to the account when economic times are good.

Under the amendment, if tax collections in any given year grow by more than one-third than they did during the previous 10 years on average, the state must set aside some of that money. It requires three-fourths of the amount above the one-third to go into the rainy-day account, according to legislative staff. The other fourth can be spent.

However, the provision applies only if the money in question exceeds what the state Constitution already requires to be set aside. And the amendment would not apply in the midst of bad economic downturns.

A recent Elway Research poll found 43 percent of voters surveyed supported the measure, 19 percent were opposed and 38 percent were undecided. The poll surveyed 407 voters statewide on Oct. 19-20. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.

There are no campaigns supporting or opposing the measure, but Rep Zack Hudgins, D-Tukwila, said he thinks it's a bad idea.

The current rainy-day account is enough, he said. The state may need the money this amendment could take away in the future to help pay for services such as education and health care.

"It's not a question of whether we should save, but how much we should save," he said.

Another amendment on the ballot, Senate Joint Resolution 8205, would clean up conflicting language in the state Constitution. There's currently a provision that says eligible citizens are entitled to vote if they've been residents for at least 30 days. But a different provision requires citizens to live in Washington for 60 days before voting for president.

The amendment would eliminate the conflict and say eligible citizens can vote if they've lived in Washington, and in their county and precinct, for at least 30 days before the election.

Andrew Garber: 360-236-8266 or agarber@seattletimes.com

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