Late Monday, the Senate passed landmark legislation to restructure how state budgets are written.
Senate Joint Resolution 8222, sponsored by Sen. Jim Kastama, a firm advocate for a sustainable budget, passed on a 36-12 vote, exceeding the two-thirds requirement and now goes to the House for consideration there. Kastama’s bill requires the state to balance the budget over a four-year period instead of the current two-year model.
“A four-year balanced budget will force action to stabilize the budget and ensure predictability in government service funding,” said Kastama, a Puyallup Democrat. “The requirement will prevent fiscal year accounting gimmicks that push debt onto the next biennium. It will also force honesty by conforming our budget with long term projections.”
Kastama noted that three of the world’s most influential credit rating agencies recently downgraded Washington’s status from “stable” to “negative,” citing the state’s continued depressed revenues and continued long-term deficits.
“This measure was taken up in direct action to affirm Washington state's credit worthiness,” Kastama said. “Today we sign budgets that we know will lead to a deficit in just a few short years. This common-sense fiscal reform will provide future predictability so we can maintain important state services and not have them suddenly terminated due to insufficient funding.”
A planned, balanced budget will stabilize funding for public schools, public road works, public transportation initiatives, environmental grants, state-provided healthcare and essential state services like emergency responders.
"This is historic,” Kastama said. “Here in Washington, we have accomplished in the Senate something that not even the federal government has been able to do, and with bipartisan agreement."
Washington’s outgoing chief economist, Arun Raha, enthusiastically supports this amendment as a necessary measure to stabilize our long term budget crisis. Related legislation also merges the Revenue Forecast Council with the Case Load Forecast Council to increase the accuracy of the state’s fiscal projections.
As a constitutional amendment, if SJR 8222 passes the House, it would go to the voters for ratification or rejection on the November 2012 ballot.