Facing a growing fiscal threat posed by the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak, Gov. Jay Inslee used his line-item veto authority today to trim $235 million from the 2020 supplemental operating budget the Legislature approved last month. The vetoes will reduce spending another $210 million in the state’s next two-year budget.
“These are difficult and challenging times and we must make difficult and challenging choices. Under normal circumstances, I would not veto bills and budget items that are good policy and smart investments for the state. As everyone knows, these are not normal times,” Inslee said. “As we address the health crisis, we must also look ahead to ease as much fiscal pain as we can. It is all but certain that we will need to make adjustments to our next budget cycle and we must get started now.”
The supplemental budget provides funding the state needs to meet caseload increases and address costs that were unforeseen last year when lawmakers adopted the 2019–21 budget. Lawmakers also approved urgently needed funding to help the state respond to the fast-growing COVID-19 outbreak.
The budget, however, also included other less-urgent increases, including funding for new or expanded programs and services.
When lawmakers approved the supplemental budget three weeks ago, the latest projections indicated the state would have nearly $3 billion in total reserves at the end of the biennium. But the state’s fiscal outlook has deteriorated dramatically since then.
To slow the spread of the coronavirus, the governor took unprecedented actions such as ordering non-essential businesses to close and requiring all Washingtonians to stay home except for essential activities. Similar to other states and countries hit hard by the global pandemic, Washington’s economy has been largely idled in recent weeks and need for state services for impacted workers — such as unemployment and other programs — has risen sharply.
With revenue collections expected to fall sharply this year, Inslee’s budget staff scrubbed the budget for ways to reduce spending in the current budget and the next two-year budget. During that review, the governor and his budget staff consulted with legislative leaders and their staff.
In all, the governor vetoed 147 separate expenditure items today. The vetoes will reduce state spending by nearly $445 million (from the Near General Fund) over the next three years — $235 million in the current budget and $210 million in the next biennium.
Read the full veto message here.