Lawmakers will face uncertainties on return to Olympia next month

The good news is that state lawmakers will head to Olympia next month with only a supplemental budget to approve for 2014, since the two-year, biennial budget was okayed in the 2013 session earlier this year.

The not-so-good news is that legislators will be faced with uncertainties brought on by Obamacare and the State Supreme Court.

State Rep. Bruce Chandler is the ranking Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, and he calls questions surrounding federal health care legislation “a mass of confusion.”

For Washington state coffers, specifically, there might be losses up to nearly $70 million over the next two years. Chandler (R-Granger) says that includes the potential of $50 million in reduced federal reimbursements for some on disability and another possibility for $17 million in lost health care waivers from the federal government.

“It’s hard to say how we’re going to work our way through that until we get clarity from the federal government,” Chandler said.

On top of that, lawmakers may not be done dealing with the aftermath of the McCleary ruling from the state’s highest court.

Chandler says the Washington State Education Association, among others, has challenged the court ruling calling for legislators to apportion another billion dollars or so for education funding based on wording in the state constitution.

If a challenge is upheld, the state may need to ante up even more dollars for education.

Yet another case before the Washington Supreme Court has the potential to require the state to pay more in pension benefits, if it’s upheld.

Chandler says the pension case has the possibility of costing the state another $15 million for the next biennium, while the verdict is still out on what additional costs will be associated with the McCleary case if the challenge is upheld.

Of course, he adds, there’s also the chance that court cases and funding questions with Obamacare might not be resolved during the legislature’s relatively brief supplemental budget session. That would leave those issues, depending on how they turn out, to be faced in future legislative sessions.

The uncertainty comes at a time when the state’s economy is reviving, but hasn’t regained pre-recession levels.

“I would say that our revenue projection is still modestly improving,” Chandler says. “Our economy is stable, but not energized.”

That mix of uncertain costs and a relatively fixed income means lawmakers will take a conservative approach when they convene next month.

“I would expect that would keep legislators’ expectations in check,” he says of forming a supplemental budget for 2014.

Chandler feels that also reflects the will of the people.

“The public wants stability and predictability. People are getting worn out with change between the federal and state levels,” he says. “We’ll try to make adjustments without making any big changes.”

Chandler is hopeful that will be accomplished.

“For us the important thing is to stick with priorities that are represented in the current budget,” he says.

“This is a first budget in a number of years where spending was aligned with a clear set of priorities,” Chandler added. “I’m optimistic by the time we get through with the adjustments that we’ll be within budget.”


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