A member of the lobbying firm that represents Skagit County told the county commissioners Friday to expect the COVID-19 pandemic to severely affect state spending, and require local governments to fight for every dollar they receive.
Josh Weiss, a vice president with Gordon Thomas Honeywell Governmental Affairs, said a recent state budget forecast has the state receiving $700 million less than expected in revenue for the 2020 fiscal year, which ends July 1. He said before the pandemic the state was on track to receive $800 million more than expected.
The same forecast projects a $3 billion loss in revenue in the 2021-2022 biennium — about a 14% drop from the previous period, he said.
Lawmakers may return to Olympia in summer or fall for a brief special session to consider tapping rainy-day accounts and take action on two or three COVID-related bills, Weiss said.
He said the Legislature will likely focus first on the state’s budget shortfall, and will be reluctant to commit money to state or local governments. This is in part because the state doesn’t know what it will receive in federal aid or reimbursements.
“The Legislature doesn’t know what it can plan on,” Weiss said.
County Commissioner Lisa Janicki asked Weiss to push against Gov. Jay Inslee’s emergency order modifying the Open Public Records Act.
She said his action forced the county to suspend implementation of things such as the Tourism Promotion Area, which she said would promote economic recovery for the tourism industry.
“We need to be able to continue working,” she said.
Commissioners Ken Dahlstedt and Ron Wesen both responded to Weiss’ update with calls to open the economy more broadly.
Dahlstedt said he believes businesses should be allowed to reopen while abiding by social distancing requirements. If we wait too long, he said, too many local businesses will have to close.
“At some point, we just need to tell the governor we’re moving forward,” he said. “Cautiously.”
He called on the other commissioners to defy the governor’s order and meet Monday to approve the Tourism Promotion Area, though neither said they would.
“We need to play defense down in Olympia,” Wesen said of the funding the county receives from the state.
He said he agrees that businesses should be able to open, saying the public can be trusted to decide whether they are willing to accept an increased risk of infection.
“If the economy is dead, local government is dead,” Wesen said.