By Kevin Ranker
As chair of the state Economic and Revenue Forecast Council, I am pleased that our state’s chief economist announced that higher-than-expected tax collections are projected to add $535 million to state revenue through 2021.
This continues a modest but positive increase in Washington state’s economy that we have seen over the last several years. An improving economy means more people working, higher incomes and additional resources for the state’s priorities to ensure every community benefits from our shared prosperity.
However, it is important to recognize that the budget we passed a few months ago relied on a revenue forecast $882 million higher than the one produced by the Economic and Revenue Forecast Council. The additional $535 million we now expect to receive is good news, but does not cover the optimistic forecast used in our current budget.
That said, this money is crucial to fill the gaps in the last-minute budget we signed to avoid a state shutdown. We knew the budget was imperfect, including a lack of funding for the State Need Grant and unrealistic health care savings assumptions. Since we left town, the state has incurred new expenses, including another costly fire season and additional behavioral health funding needs.
There was almost universal bipartisan consensus that the focus of the 2017 legislative session had to be directed at increasing state funds for K-12 education. The new education plan succeeds in providing more state dollars to all local school districts, but may have cut off too much of our local communities’ flexibility in the process. We know every homeowner statewide now faces the massive Republican property tax increase this January, possibly hampering school districts’ abilities to pass local levies and fully fund our children’s education.
Working families in districts across the state from Bellingham to Spokane will be tightening their belts to pay for the property tax increase. I am pleased that the Senate Republican leaders recently recognized the hardship their property tax will cause. However, we still find ourselves underfunding critical priorities of the state. To suggest that we walk back the Republican property tax mistake with this modest forecasted revenue increase, particularly when the budget is already unbalanced and new costs are accruing daily, is unrealistic and further affects our communities, our schools and our citizens.
When we return to Olympia, we will need to work aggressively, and in a bipartisan manner, to ensure the Republican property tax increase is managed or reduced in a way that is more equitable to all of Washington’s citizens.
We must begin to truly balance the current budget, mitigating the mistakes and gaps while thoughtfully alleviating the disproportionate and dramatic impacts of the property tax that homeowners will face early next year. It is my hope that I will find a partner on the other side of the aisle to help us bring down property taxes for families across the state while providing for a fully funded education for our children and services for those in need.
State Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, represents the 40th Legislative District. He is the ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee.