FILE - Washington Capitol Building

The Washington state capitol building in Olympia, Washington.

(The Center Square) — A Washington state lawmaker is petitioning his colleagues to shoot down any austerity measures proposed during the state’s forthcoming budget negotiations.

Austerity is a term commonly used to describe reductions in government spending meant to address budget deficits and taking on more debt.

In his petition, Washington Sen. Joe Nguyen, D-White Center, demands his fellow state lawmakers and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee pass a budget that reflects “equity” and “justice” by preserving critical social services for poor and vulnerable community members.

Washington law has required since 2012 that the state’s budget to be balanced over the course of each two-year fiscal period.

Nguyen highlighted racial disparities in the state’s COVID-19 caseload as just cause for continuing funding for health care services during the pandemic.

Hispanics now make up 42 percent of Washington’s 77,545 confirmed COVID-19 cases while making up 13 percent of the state’s population, Washington Department of Health and U.S. Census data shows.

By contrast, non-Hispanic whites in Washington make up just 38 percent of total COVID-19 cases while making up 78.5 percent of the state’s population, according to WDOH and Census data.

Nguyen is an outspoken critic of the state’s austere budgeting approach and has advocated for bolstering social services. In April, he sponsored a bill that was signed into law by Gov. Inslee which expanded access to the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program for more than the allotted 60 days.

During the Recession, Washington saw billions cut from public schools, higher education, and social services.

In December 2008, then-Gov. Christine Gregoire proposed a two-year budget that cut $990 million in health care spending as the state faced an $8 billion deficit over the next two years.

The state’s unemployment rate was 7.8 percent at that time. In July of this year, the state’s unemployment rate was 10.3 percent.

Washington will now have to confront an estimated budget deficit of up to $8.8 billion by 2023.

While Gregoire’s austere budget proposals did not hike taxes or dry up tax credits for businesses, Nguyen wrote in his petition that some tax increases will likely be necessary.

“It would be impossible to cut discretionary spending enough to make up for the projected revenue deficits,” Nguyen’s petition reads.

Nguyen called on his colleagues to favor “progressive” revenue streams over budget cuts as the prospect of more federal COVID-19 aid remains in limbo.

Nguyen has said before that tax hikes and budget cuts may be necessary to some extent in the long-term future.

Washington is one of seven states without an income tax. It does boast one of the highest sales taxes in the country—9.17 percent—according to a 2019 report from The Tax Foundation.

Members of the King County Council, the Seattle School Board, and the state legislature have signed Nguyen’s petition.

Washington leaders have not indicated whether the state will be conducting a special legislative session unlike many states, including Oregon to the south.

If no special sessions occur this year, the Washington legislature will reconvene as scheduled on Monday, January 11, 2021.

Staff Reporter

Tim Gruver is a politics and public policy reporter. He is a University of Washington alum and the recipient of the 2017 Pioneer News Award for Reporting. His work has appeared in Politico, the Kitsap Daily News, and the Northwest Asian Weekly.