Lawmakers have 60 days starting Monday to slash the budget and send any tax increase out for a public vote to stave off some of the cuts.
Or do they?
Gov. Chris Gregoire and Democrats want a spring vote for a sales tax or other revenue, and top Senate budget writer Ed Murray says the way he understands it, lawmakers could pass a revenue package shortly after the Feb. 16 revenue forecast and get it to voters in April or May.
But state elections co-director Katie Blinn said her office would need far more lead time for an April vote and can’t handle a May vote at all.
To put a measure on the April 17 ballot, Blinn said the secretary of state’s office needs 10 1/2 weeks notice, so lawmakers would have to act by Feb. 2. Blinn acknowledged there’s a little wiggle room that might allow a final decision the week of Feb. 6 — but no later.
As for a special May election, Blinn says:
For us it would be very, very difficult if not impossible, because we’re going to be doing candidate filing during that time.
June and July have similar complications. And there’s another problem with waiting until May or later: Gregoire is counting on the tax starting to add to state coffers on July 1. For that to happen, the Department of Revenue needs about 60 days to notify businesses that their tax payments are changing, spokesman Mike Gowrylow said. He said the department might be able to do the work faster but that would require less preparation time for businesses.
If the state can’t start collecting July 1, it might have to wait until the next quarter, Sept. 1, and miss three months of collections.
Lawmakers are used to passing a budget in the final days of session — which ends March 8 – or even going into overtime. And it will take time to settle on any revenue package, not to mention to sort out the demands of Republicans and moderate Democrats who demand long-term changes in how state government operates before they will consider revenue.