Senate approves Hill plan to improve budget-writing process

A plan by Sen. Andy Hill that would allow the crafting of state budget proposals to begin in earnest a month sooner received unanimous support today from the state Senate.

Hill’s proposal would require the first of the state’s four quarterly revenue forecasts to be ready by Feb. 20 each year. That would allow budget writers to have updated information one month earlier and therefore provide lawmakers with more time to finalize a final budget plan and complete their work on time.

“Being new to the job of budget-writer I’m very interested in ways we can make the process more productive,” said Hill, who is serving his first year as chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee. “We checked out the concept with the state’s chief economist who didn’t have any concerns. Doing this could help us have a more productive session and avoid additional delays.”

The state’s chief economist releases quarterly revenue forecasts, projecting how much money the state is expected to take in during future budget cycles. Those projections serve as the baseline on which budget writers craft their plans.

“Since I became a senator in 2011 it’s been overtime after overtime because of the budget. Right now, we have to wait for the revenue forecast on March 20, which allows only about one month for us to finalize proposals, conduct committee hearings, vote on the actual bills and get together with the House to negotiate a final plan. If we can move up the timeline we have a much better chance for success.”

Under Washington’s constitution, the Legislature alternates between 105- and 60-day sessions during odd- and even-numbered years, respectively. During a 60-day session the first revenue projection is already due on Feb. 20, because that schedule has lawmakers adjourning before March 20.
The bill is sponsored by the four leaders of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, including Hill and Sens. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam; Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane; and Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island; along with the Senate’s previous chief budget writer, Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle.