Just how big is the state’s budget shortfall?

While covering stories on Washington state’s budget, media reports include a billion-dollar range of figures when describing the state’s financial shortfall. Exactly how big of a problem are lawmakers facing this session? Is it a $1 billion crisis? $1.5 billion? $2 billion?

The state’s Office of Financial Management spokesman Ralph Thomas explains:

“When the governor first released her budget, we were addressing a $2 billion problem,” he said Wednesday morning. That $2 billion amount included a $1.4 billion shortfall in which the state had $1.4 billion in expenses it couldn’t afford. Additionally, that amount included a $600 million reserve fund requested by Gov. Chris Gregoire.

“You have to leave some amount in the reserve in case things get really bad,” Thomas said.

State lawmakers decreased the shortfall by about $490 million when they met during a special session last month to tackle the budget problem. That leaves a $910 million shortfall and a $600 million reserve that lawmakers will need to figure out during this 60-day legislative session. That adds up to about a $1.5 billion budget problem.

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