A long-awaited special session in Washington State begins today (November 28), with lawmakers facing a budget shortfall of at least $1.4 billion. The session could last as long as 30 days, and while legislators will consider an array of budget cuts, they will also debate a sales tax increase as a way to prevent deep reductions to K-12 education and criminal justice programs.
Governor Chris Gregoire, a Democrat who is not running for reelection in 2012, is leading the charge for the higher sales tax. According to The Associated Press , the governor is asking the legislature to approve - and send to the voters - a half-cent increase that would expire in July 2015, raising an estimated $1.5 billion. Absent the increase, the governor says, residents would need to accept cuts that could result in a shorter school year and earlier inmate releases.
"If they vote no, the cuts are going into place," Gregoire told the AP . "It's not a hypothetical. If they vote yes, they won't. They'll have invested in our future."
Democrats control both chambers of Washington's legislature, and are likely to give Gregoire's proposal a serious hearing. Meanwhile, a key business advocacy group that has lobbied against tax hikes in the past, the Association of Washington Business, "is not disagreeing with the need for revenues this time," The (Olympia) Olympian reports .
"At the end of the day, I think we recognize that things like higher education, public health and public safety are on the line," the group's president told The Olympian . "We've talked to her (Gregoire) a lot and will be talking to her down the road ... the way we view this thing is everything is on the table — expenditures as well as revenue."
As Stateline noted earlier this month, Washington is far from the only state where lawmakers have returned for a special session this year. But while legislators elsewhere have focused primarily on redistricting and job creation, Washington faces the more daunting task of making major changes to the two-year budget that the governor signed into law in June.