The growth of state spending

The state budget being tackled by the Legislature is a monster — a complicated two-year plan that must balance sometimes-difficult-to-predict revenue streams with predictably difficult spending decisions. Most of the discretionary spending — and the news from Olympia — lies in a general fund of about $33 billion. But the whole shebang, the check-register total for everything, from state payroll to highway construction, is more than twice that.

While state budget cuts have been much in the news in recent years, overall spending has steadily increased, in no small part due to rising costs beyond the state’s control, such as health care, and contractual obligations to state employees. These numbers have been adjusted for inflation, with all of the biennia expressed in 2012 dollars. Some economists think the Consumer Price Index we used for the adjustment overstates the rate of inflation, so the actual increase from the 2001-03 biennium to the 2013-15 biennium, for example, could be greater than the 24.0 percent shown here.

Crunch the numbers yourself

  • Above, we’ve posted the Excel spreadsheet we used to make these calculations.
  • You can learn more at the excellent Washington State Fiscal Information website at fiscal.wa.gov.

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