SAN FRANCISCO — Washington lawmakers are considering a bipartisan plan that would reduce the state’s $2 billion budget shortfall by about one-quarter.
The bill, which would make $480 million of cuts to the biennial budget adopted last spring, went before the house late Tuesday and could reach Gov. Chris Gregoire’s desk before the end of the emergency session.
The governor called the emergency session after projections showed revenues would come in an estimated $1.4 billion short of what is needed to meet the fiscal 2011 to 2013 budget, while also adding $600 million to buffer reserves.
“This bill is a down payment on the overall solution,” House Ways and Means Committee Chair and bill sponsor Ross Hunter, D-Medina, said in a statement.
In May, lawmakers passed the two-year budget that closed a projected $4.9 billion deficit in a $32 billion budget.
The latest cuts would mainly come from more than $300 million worth of spending reductions to different departments, including public schools and health services.
The plan also includes a $50 million transfer of unclaimed investments, which the state usually sits on for three years, to the general fund.
Another $106 million would come from agencies’ unspent funds and transfers from other accounts.
The Legislature will return next year to tackle more difficult budget reductions to fill the gap.
The state’s Economic and Revenue Forecast Council said revenues came in 1.2% higher than expected during the collection period from Nov. 11 to Dec. 10, mainly because of timing. It said it expected the local economy to continue to “muddle through” but outperform the national economy.
Washington has double-A-plus ratings across the board, which were affirmed by the agencies in the fall during a state general obligation bond sale, despite sliding revenues.
“The Aa1 general obligation rating incorporates Washington’s strong management tools such as its quarterly consensus revenue forecasting process and conservative budgetary controls, absence of liquidity strain, and strong demographic trends that will help propel the economic recovery once it takes hold,” Moody’s Investors Service said in a September report.
Moody’s said the state’s revenues have been hard hit by the recession’s impact on consumer confidence because Washington relies heavily on sales tax, as it has no income tax.
However, Standard & Poor’s analyst Gabriel Petek noted in that firm’s report that the state’s reserves are low, leaving its AA-plus rating vulnerable.
The state projected it may issue up to $2.1 billion of transportation and various-purpose GO bonds through spring 2012, according to Standard & Poor’s.