A few weeks ago, I reported that minority Republicans in Olympia were spinning election-year conspiracy theories. Why? Because Gov. Chris Gregoire's budget office has stopped producing six-year budget outlooks.
Sen. Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, predicted a long-term outlook would show the state facing a $2 billion budget shortfall by 2013 - a number that wouldn't help Gregoire any on the campaign trail. In an effort to confirm his suspicion, Zarelli recently asked the non-partisan staff at the Senate Ways and Means Committee to crunch the numbers.
That report is back and it's even worse than Zarelli's prediction. It shows Washington facing a $2.5 billion shortfall in six years. The state would still have an estimated $1.5 billion rainy day fund. But Zarelli says that nest egg should remain off limits unless there's a real economic emergency.
Not surprisingly, the $2.5 billion number has immediately become political fodder. The State Republican Party sent out a news release, as did GOP gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi. Rossi writes: "These are the numbers that Christine Gregoire does not want the public to see."
Previously, Gregoire's budget director, Victor Moore, told me the reason he stopped doing six-year outlooks is because they're notoriously unreliable. Other budget experts will back him up on that.
The next report that's sure to become a political football is the state's updated revenue forecast. It's due out on Feb. 14. The question is, will Forecast Council Director Chang Mook Sohn send Gregoire or Rossi a Valentine with his projection?
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