Sharp hike in projected revenue jump could break budget stalemate

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A new revenue forecast released today projects the state will take in $231 million more than expected in tax collections — a potential game-changer for ongoing budget negotiations.

Theoretically, this could help lawmakers reach a deal on the state budget after months of stalled talks.

Negotiators have been arguing whether to close certain tax breaks, including one for residential phone service, in order to raise money to help fund education and social services. Republicans contend the latest forecast proves there’s no need to raise additional tax revenue.

Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom said Tuesday that a projected increase in tax collections this large should make it much easier to wrap up budget negotiations and go home without arguing about closing tax breaks proposed by Democrats. Or, for that matter, passing legislation that Republicans have pushed for — such as changes to the state workers’ compensation system.

“We should just be able to say OK … let’s wrap up the people’s business and move on,” he said.

Senate Republicans took control of the state Senate in January when Tom, D-Medina, and state Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, crossed party lines to caucus with the GOP. Republicans appointed Tom majority leader.

It’s not clear yet if Democrats, who control the House and governor’s office, will agree to pass a budget without additional revenue. There also are disagreements over how the budget allocates money that must be worked out.

The Legislature is now in its second special session. Lawmakers have struggled for months to close a large shortfall in the state budget and put in an additional $1 billion into public schools to meet a state Supreme Court mandate.

But there is growing pressure to strike a deal because failure to pass a budget by the end of this month would force a government shutdown. State agencies are already making preparations.

Roughly half of the projected increase in tax collections is from the current fiscal year and the rest would come in over the next two years.

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