- Associated Press - Friday, February 20, 2015

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - Washington lawmakers have a little more money available to them as they work on crafting a new two-year budget for the state, according to an updated forecast released Friday.

The newest report from the state Economic and Revenue Forecast Council shows that revenue collection projections through the middle of 2017 have increased by about $274 million. The projected overall state budget for 2015-17 is expected to be $37 billion.

Lawmakers still face a projected budget shortfall of about $2 billion, in large part due to a voter-approved initiative to lower class sizes. And even if they vote to suspend that measure - or even possibly send it back to the voters as some have suggested - they still need to address a court-ordered requirement to put additional money toward the state’s education system.

Republican Sen. Andy Hill, a member of the council and lead budget writer in his chamber, said that the modest increase in revenues “makes our job a lot easier.”

“It reduces the pressure on the perennial call for more taxes,” he said.

Democratic Rep. Ross Hunter, the top budget writer in the House, said the revenue forecast doesn’t solve all of the state’s fiscal problems, but “it makes a difficult problem slightly less difficult.”

Lawmakers this session moved the forecast up by a month to try to expedite the budget process. Lawmakers hope to complete their work within the 105-day legislative session set to end in late April. Hunter said there is still a lot of information to be gathered in the coming weeks before he’ll be ready with his final budget proposal, likely toward the end of March.

Forecasters say the revenues for the next budget cycle could still fluctuate dramatically in either direction. A variety of outside economic forces could help or hurt the state, including a slowing Chinese economy, geopolitical instability in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, and oil prices.

The next revenue forecast will be released in June.

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