There’s unlikely to be any public action at the Legislature for the rest of the week, but behind the scenes negotiators appear to be moving closer to a deal, and some lawmakers are now hopefully predicting they might be able to finish their work next week.
My story today spells out one possible path, an accounting change, maneuver, gimmick or trick — take your pick of labels — that could raise roughly the amount that is in dispute. See below for an official outline of the plan.
The treasurer’s office, considered an arbiter of budget chicanery, says it’s not a gimmick. And both the treasurer and Sen. Joe Zarelli, Republicans’ budget point man, make a similar argument: the change in how local sales tax money is handled wouldn’t be a one-time fix like a skipped or delayed payment, but an ongoing change that would not burden future budget years.
Conservative think-tank types are doubtful. Bob Williams, former GOP legislator and founder of the (formerly Evergreen) Freedom Foundation, said in an e-mail to me:
This is a gimmick and is the same as the other gimmicks which State Treasurer Jim McIntire has called “felony gimmicks.” No private company could engage in such accounting gimmicks.
… It is NOT state revenue. Once they start do this, is the next step to put lottery proceeds; gas tax revenue; etc. into the general fund and delay transferring it to the lottery or DOT. Since it is not state revenue it should not be treated as such. I have been tracking all 50 days and Washington state is one of a few states that is still playing the gimmick game. A majority of states have taken the hard choice and downsized (cut) state spending.
Jason Mercier of the Washington Policy Center writes that the change may be helpful in managing cash, but not in balancing the budget:
So while this may make it look like there is more money available to be spent it is in fact local government revenue, not state, and is sitting on the state’s balance sheet only until it is dispersed to local governments.
UPDATED 9:54 a.m. with Mercier’s comments and the document.