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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Budget Chair: Total Shortfall = $2.76 Billion

Washington House of Representatives

Governor-elect Jay Inslee and Washington lawmakers face a nearly $3B conundrum in the next two-year budget. That's the stark assessment of House Budget Chair Ross Hunter, D-Medina.

Hunter outlined the bigger-than-previously-reported budget gap in a PowerPoint slide presentation to fellow House Democrats at the start of two days of pre-session meetings at the Capitol.

Hunter's analysis of the budget predicament is far more pessimistic than the conventional wisdom has held. The official projected budget shortfall, according to the Office of Financial Management, is $900M for the next two years. Plus, it's generally agreed the legislature will have to come up with an additional $1B for public schools to show "real and measurable" progress toward meeting a Supreme Court order to amply fund K-12.

Combine the two and you get a $1.9B problem statement. But Hunter says that doesn't tell the whole story. For instance, the legislature usually leaves some cash on hand in the general fund in case of an emergency. In his presentation to fellow Democrats, Hunter added $350M for that ending fund balance.

Hunter also believes the cost to begin to fulfill the Supreme Court ruling in the McCleary case is more like $1.6B. He factors in, for instance, $400M in higher compensation for administrative and classified staff.

Factor in these additional costs and Hunter says the problem facing the 2013 legislature quickly balloons to nearly $3B.

If you accept Hunter's math, then Governor-elect Inslee's pledge to balance the budget and start to pay for the McCleary decision without higher taxes just got a lot harder.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."