As lawmakers negotiate budget in overtime session, new forecast shows increase in revenues

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OLYMPIA, Washington — With just over a week left in the Legislature's current special session, lawmakers received an early revenue forecast Monday that shows they have a little more money to work with during their extended budget negotiations.

The latest report from the state Economic and Revenue Forecast Council found that the state's revenue collections through the middle of 2017 are expected to increase by more than $400 million — with nearly $327 million for the upcoming 2015-2017 budget and $79 million for the current two-year budget through the end of June. The projected overall state budget for 2015-17 is expected to be $37 billion.

The council voted unanimously last week to release the latest numbers on Monday instead of mid-June as previously scheduled. The move was done to help lawmakers who continue to struggle to reach an agreement on a state operating budget while also complying with a Supreme Court-ordered requirement to put additional money toward the state's education system.

"Yes this will make it easier to come to conclusion," said Democratic state Rep. Ross Hunter, a member of the Revenue Forecast Council and the top budget writer in the House. "Does it solve all of our problems? No."

There are differing ideas between the politically divided chambers on how best to proceed, with Democrats seeking more revenue and Republicans saying new taxes are not needed.

The Legislature adjourned its scheduled 105-day regular session two days early last month without a budget deal, and lawmakers are now near the end of a 30-day special session set to end May 28. If they can't reach a deal by then, Gov. Jay Inslee will likely call them back.

"At some point you have to say, holy cow we have a lot of money," said Republican Sen. Andy Hill, a member of the council and lead budget writer in his chamber. "We should be able to get this job done very quickly. We are well, well beyond what you would think you would need to get out of town."

The revenue forecast showed an uptick in marijuana revenues, with the assumption that more taxes will come in now that the Legislature reconciled the medical and recreational marijuana industries, meaning more marijuana will be subject to taxes. The forecast shows that marijuana could bring in about $1 billion to the state through the middle of 2019, though officials cautioned that those numbers will continue to change as the industry continues to develop.

"As we have said all along there's a lot of uncertainty around recreational marijuana," said Steve Lerch, the revenue council's executive director. "We have now added an additional amount of uncertainty by adding medical here."

Hunter said that the marijuana assumptions concerned him.

"If we write budgets assuming that and it doesn't come true, I'm concerned about what actions we have to take," he said.

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