Billion Dollar Shortfall Prompts Gregoire's Call for Special Session

It turns out that Washington state will be another billion dollars in the red if action isn't taken fast. Governor Christine Gregoire is ordering Olympia lawmakers to schedule a one day special session this Thursday to come up with ways to shore up the budget. This particular shortfall is blamed on a "slow growth in tax collections".

According to press reports, Gregoire isn't asking for a supplemental budget at this point but rather it seems that legislators will be brainstorming belt-tightening strategies as a precursor to Olympia's regular session which begins in January.

It's a familiar refrain for those who follow state politics. Two years of poor economic growth has put the squeeze on politicians used to being given a blank check when it comes to funding pet projects.

No doubt majority Democrats will castigate citizen initiatives sponsored by Tim Eyman and also the repeal of a candy tax this November as culprits for the projected deficit. But the answer is not that easy.

Over the past decade, there has not been a single budget passed by lawmakers where actual state spending has been cut. Quite the contrary, in most biannual budgets have outstripped not only inflation but even GDP growth. Consider these budget numbers from the state's Office of Financial Management.

2000: $21.4 billion

2001: $23.0 billion

2002: $24.3 billion

2003: $25.1 billion

2004: $25.9 billion

2005: $27.5 billion

2006: $29.1 billion

2007: $31.3 billion

2008: $33.2 billion

2009: $35.2 billion

2010: $35.7 billion

2011: $36.9 billion

From the year 2000, state spending has ballooned by 72 percent. Since Gregoire took office in 2005, the government has grown by 34 percent. From 2004 to 2009, Democratic majorities in both houses of the Legislature managed to increase by spending $2 billion per annum. Even during last years "budget crisis" brought about by the "Great Recession", Olympia still managed to increase spending $500 million.

So what are the taxpayers getting for their hard-earned dollar?

The biggest drain on the state budget is the Department of Social and Health Services which is projected to consume $10.9 billion in 2011, more than one-third of all expenditures. $5.1 billion has been set aside for medical assistance payments with another $1.6 billion going to long-term care and $1.2 billion for the Economic Services Administration.

Washington has a constitutional mandate to provide funding for public and higher education and will do so to the tune of $8.3 billion and $5.4 billion respectively. Fueling further Apple Cup rivalry, the University of Washington is getting $2.2 billion while Washington State University receives $634 million.

The Washington State Department of Transportation has been allocated $3.4 billion. The Department of Corrections and Washington State Patrol will receive $898 million and $251 million respectively. Some other agencies of note are the Washington State Liquor Control Board, $124 million; Department of Commerce, $575 million; Department of Labor and Industries, $314 million; Department of Health $617 million; Department of Ecology, $485 million; and the Department of Natural Resources, $299 million.

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