In Washington State, So Far It’s State Workers Who Have Felt The Budget Squeeze

This story is part of an NPR nationwide analysis of states’ revenue and budgets during the pandemic.

In Washington state, tax collections are expected to tumble by $8.8 billion over the next three years. For context, the state’s current two-year budget is about $53 billion.

In response, Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee ordered furloughs for approximately 40,000 general government workers — something not seen in the state since the Great Recession. He also canceled planned pay raises for about 5,600 higher-earning state employees, mostly agency directors and managers.

In May, the governor’s budget office told state agencies to identify potential cuts of 15%. The picture that emerged from that exercise was bleak: slashed payments to providers of social services, state employee layoffs and 3,700 fewer course offerings at community and technical colleges — to name just a few examples.

“If we actually had a budget like this, it would be horrifying,” says David Schumacher, the governor’s budget director. A special session to begin to address the budget is possible later this year. Already, majority Democrats in the Legislature are signaling that an all-cuts budget is unlikely and that taxes are on the table.

Austin Jenkins is the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network.

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