Schoesler votes again for change to help budget talks start sooner

Sen. Schoesler -- 2015The Senate today launched another attempt to get state-budget negotiations with the House of Representatives going a month sooner than usual. Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler was among those voting to have the first state-government revenue forecast of each year delivered on Feb. 20, rather than March 20. Legislative budget-writers use the forecast to put the finishing touches on their proposals.

“Three weeks into this year’s session, I’m still optimistic that we will get our work wrapped up on schedule – but bringing the revenue forecast forward by a month sure would help our chances,” said Schoesler, R-Ritzville. “The sooner those revenue numbers are in hand, the sooner we can have budget debates and budget votes. The more time the Senate and House have to negotiate their differences and reach agreement, the more likely we are to avoid an overtime session.

“This change is right in line with our majority’s emphasis on making government more efficient. If the House leaders care as much as our Senate majority about adjourning on April 26, and being able to go home with our work complete, bringing this bill to a vote this coming week is one of the best moves they could make.”

This is the fourth time the Senate has unanimously approved a change in the revenue forecast’s due date. The previous three attempts stalled in the House, without so much as a public hearing on the proposal. If the House decides to also take action this year, the law Senate Bill 5064 creates would go into effect immediately after being signed by the governor. In that case, Schoesler said, the state economist’s office is poised to deliver this year’s first revenue forecast Feb. 20.

In odd-numbered years lawmakers are given 105 days to meet in “regular” session. Their tasks include developing and adopting a trio of new two-year budgets: one for government’s day-to-day operations, a second for public construction projects, and the third for transportation projects. The state revenue forecast is delivered in mid- to late March, which usually gives legislators a month at most to agree on a new operating budget. In even-numbered years the legislative session is limited to 60 days, as budgets are being adjusted rather than being built from scratch, and the revenue forecast is available in mid- to late February.

“All this bill asks is that the state economist make the forecast available in February every year instead of every other year. It’s a simple, common-sense change that would make the budget process more efficient, and this is the year to begin,” Schoesler said.