Earlier revenue forecast should improve state budgeting

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The state Legislature is now on a short recess before senators and representatives go back to Olympia for an extra session to agree on a state budget. Sadly, this sentence could have been written just about any year since this century began (and several years earlier).

In the days before lawmakers earned yet another incomplete on their report card, the Senate unanimously agreed to have the Economic and Revenue Forecast Council submit its first projections of the year earlier.

That would be a welcome move. The Legislature has a bad habit of procrastination and delaying the revenue forecasts enables the behavior.

When Dr. Peter Brooks, a Walla Walla physician, was first elected to the state House more than two decades ago, he was astonished and disturbed by the do-everything-on-the-last-day approach of both houses of the Legislature.

Lawmakers went around the clock sometimes in an attempt to meet deadlines. Brooks thought the lack of sleep was bad for lawmakers’ health, so he pitched legislation to establish work curfews. Nobody stayed up late pushing that plan into law.

Perhaps he should have taken a different approach. The focus should have been on taking steps to help lawmakers do their jobs better by giving them enough time to make thoughtful decisions.

The proposal that sailed through the Senate should do that. The date of the revenue forecast would be moved up a month, from March 20 to Feb. 20. Legislators can’t do too much regarding the budget until they get the forecast, which tells them how much money will likely be available to spend.

Dragging the budget process on is counterproductive as it gives state officials and employees less time to adjust spending and plan for changes in spending. Taking it to the edge (July 1, the day the new budget year begins) would be a disaster.

The extra month should give lawmakers plenty of time to figure out a responsible, well-thought-out spending plan and adjourn on time. Yes, that’s wishful thinking, but it certainly increases the possibility.

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