State facing ‘horrendous' budget challenge, two legislators say

Two Bellevue-area legislators say the state faces a “horrendous” challenge as it tries to balance its budget.

Sen. Fred Jarrett, D-Mercer Island, and Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, said the state deficit now nearing a quarter of the state budget, is higher than any witnessed in modern times and is among the nation’s largest.

“There’s no way to sugar coat it,” Tom said. “The challenge we face is simply horrendous.”

Tom is vice chairman of the budget-writing Ways and Means Committee.

Recent budget projections show the state will be about $8 billion short of having enough money to maintain current services or pay for budget increases over the next two years.

Gov. Chris Gregoire proposed a $33.5 billion two-year budget in December.

“None of us have every lived through something like this,” Jarrett said. “I don’t think people get how bad it is.”

The budget deficit is said to be among the nation's largest.

The state's problem is that much of its general fund revenue comes from the sales tax. As people cut back on their spending, less money flows into the state treasury.

The Legislature is in the process of putting together a budget for the next two-year cycle that begins on July 1.

The state is expecting money from a federal economic recovery package signed into law last week by President Barack Obama. However, it will provide at most only about a quarter of what’s needed to close the state’s budget shortfall.

“Our job will be easier because of the federal action but the cuts will still be unprecedented,” Jarrett said.

Tom added: “But the truth is we’ve got a problem that’s more than four times larger than that.”