Schmudget Blog

Green Jobs and the Economy

Posted by staceys at Jan 26, 2009 05:55 AM |

Last year, the State Legislature passed, but did not fund, the Climate Action and Green Jobs law.

Investing in green jobs is an important part of a strategy to strengthen our economy. Coming out of the recession, we will need a trained and qualified workforce earning living wages and participating fully in the economy. Training those workers for growing targeted industries such as renewable energy is smart for the economy and good for the environment.

The green jobs initiative would include the creation of pilot green industry skills panels to ensure that trained workers will be able to meet the needs of local industry. It also calls for an increase in the opportunity grants program for green industry training to provide tuition assistance and support services for lower income students as well as funding for curriculum development in this sector.

Many of these initiatives would not be new programs. Community colleges across the state already have existing wind, solar, and biofuel programs that could be scaled up. Federal money is expected to help states embrace the green energy movement. State investments in this area could be used to leverage money from the federal stimulus package.

The need for investments in community colleges and training is especially great during a recession. The graph below shows what happened to enrollment in workforce training programs during the last recession - it rose sharply along with the state unemployment rate.


Funding the green jobs bill would not be enough to offset the deep cuts in community colleges in the Governor's 2009-11 budget proposal. These cuts would place limits on enrollment, raise tuition, reduce classes and services and diminish the ability of lower income workers to prepare for and find jobs in the new economy.

Five Facts About the Economy and Deficit Fact 5: The Deficit Is Already Here

Posted by jeffc at Jan 23, 2009 10:50 AM |
Filed under: State Budget, State Economy

Most of the focus around the budget deficit has been on the next biennium (the two-year budget cycle that will begin on July 1). It’s easy to overlook the fact that we have a deficit right now, estimated to be about half a billion dollars.

It's time to stop overlooking the current deficit. Despite the fact that the legislature has not yet passed a supplemental budget to deal with the current deficit, the Governor has already been ordering cuts in spending. And legislative leaders are weighing in. Yesterday, Senate Democrats proposed $105 million in cuts for the current biennium and House Democrats have signaled that they are working on $300 million in cuts.

When the Governor released her budget proposal in December, the documents outlining the supplemental budget were light on details, with most cuts being grouped into very large categories. For example, in the budget for the Department of Social and Health Services, there was a $55 million cut labeled only "Governor-Directed November Reduction."

Additional information is becoming available. Not surprisingly, the details are important. Hiding in the "November Reductions" are numerous cuts like the elimination of funding for Adult Day Health and an increase in child care co-pays for lower income working parents.

A good place to find the details on the Governor's supplemental proposal is on my new favorite website: Washington Fiscal Information. It's not for the faint of heart (and doesn't seem to work well in Firefox), but you can create spreadsheets with detailed budget comparisons by accounts, sources, and agencies. We'll keep putting up more information on the supplemental budget as it develops.

Well, that's the end of our first "special series." Let us know what you think and what you'd like to see next.


Five Facts About the Economy and Deficit Fact 4: The Economy Needs a Big Push

Posted by jeffc at Jan 22, 2009 12:40 PM |
Filed under: State Budget, State Economy

As everyone knows by now, our state economy is in a recession. People are feeling the pinch at home and so are retailers and manufacturers. The question we all want answered is, how do we get the economy moving again?

It helps to understand what exactly is meant by the term “recession.” The economist Jared Bernstein, who is my former boss and is now Vice President Biden’s Chief Economist, sums it up well:

Economies depend on robust demand. When folks stop buying, when investors leave the room, when governments stop building and improving public goods, growth grinds to a halt. And when that happens, the job machine stalls, unemployment rises, those with jobs work fewer hours, wages rise more slowly, and incomes decline, especially for the lowest earners and many minorities.

Lately there has been much talk of a federal stimulus plan to quickly get more money flowing in the economy. There are lots of ways to do that, but some of them are better than others. Mark Zandi from suggests the best route is to target dollars at lower and middle income households who need the cash and will quickly spend it.

In fact, he estimates the biggest “fiscal economic bank for the buck” (his phrase) comes from increasing unemployment benefits and food stamps. Spending on infrastructure would come next, followed closely by aid to state governments. By comparison, tax cuts seem like a waste of money in terms of stimulus.

When it comes to state government, economic recovery can be more difficult because most states need to balance their budgets. Basic economics says that both tax increases and spending cuts are harmful to the economy during a recession. Using our nascent Rainy Day Fund helps a little. Washington also expects federal aid for health care, economic security, and education, but there’s still a large gap.

So what do we do? Do we choose tax increases or spending cuts?

The Governor’s budget proposal comes down on one side of this question. During the election campaign last fall, she promised not to raise taxes and her budget plan for 2009-11 calls for deep spending cuts to the tune of $3.6 billion.

This is not a position backed up by economic research. Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz who is the new head of the federal Office of Management and Budget says, “Tax increases on higher-income families are the least damaging mechanism for closing state fiscal deficits in the short run.”

The Governor has also made some smart decisions to help get the economy moving. She has proposed using money from the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund to temporarily increase benefits for unemployed workers. That plan does not require tax increases and puts money quickly into the economy. It also helps struggling workers. The Governor and legislative leaders have also proposed moving quickly on ready-to-go capital infrastructure improvements.

Five Facts About the Economy and Deficit Fact 3: People Are Losing Their Jobs

Posted by jeffc at Jan 20, 2009 06:00 PM |
Filed under: State Budget, State Economy

Washington State is facing a sustained period of high unemployment. The unemployment rate is projected to rise to 8% or higher (see graph below). That would mean that one of every twelve Washingtonian workers would not be employed despite their efforts to find work.


Additionally, the Economic and Revenue Forecast Council projects that the number of jobs in the state began to fall in the second quarter of 2008 and will continue to fall until the second quarter of 2009—five straight quarters of job loss. Employment will start to grow in the third quarter of 2009, but will not reach the previous level until the end of 2010 (see graph below). In the meantime, the size of the labor force will have grown and many more jobs will be needed to lower the unemployment rate.


Lasting spells of unemployment can be devastating. Families and individuals rely on employment to provide basic necessities including food and housing. When people lose their jobs, they often lose their access to affordable health insurance as well. The negative impact isn’t limited to the unemployed; it also drags down wages and economic activity more broadly.

Shoring up programs that provide economic security should be a top priority of the state budget in these tough times. As we’ve discussed, the Governor’s budget would do the opposite; it would harm the ability of the state to provide economic security.

A potential bright spot is the Governor’s proposal to provide a temporary increase in benefits for unemployed workers. More on that tomorrow in "Fact 4: The Economy Needs a Big Push."

Underlying data come from the Economic and Revenue Forecast Council.

Five Facts About the Economy and Deficit Fact 2: People Aren't Buying Real Estate

Posted by jeffc at Jan 20, 2009 12:30 PM |

The boom and bust of the real estate market in recent years has had a significant impact on the Washington State budget. The extreme volatility of the real estate market in recent years has given a relatively small tax—the real estate excise tax (REET)—a disproportionate role in the state fiscal situation.

When the current budget was passed, a precipitous drop in revenue from the REET was expected and built into budget projections. The real estate market further deteriorated, however, and it became clear that the pessimistic projection had been overly optimistic.

The graph below shows the REET as a share of general fund revenue from 2003 to 2007 and the current projections for 2008 through 2011. From 2003 to 2007, revenue from the REET grew quickly alongside the booming real estate market, moving from 4.4% of general fund revenue to 7.4%. The real estate bust has had the opposite effect. The REET is expected to raise $560 million less in 2009 that it did in 2007.


As I pointed out yesterday, the total amount of general fund revenue in the 2007-09 and 2009-11 biennia has fallen by $2.7 billion since the current budget was passed. Declining retail sales tax revenue explains 68% of that change. Declining REET expectations are the second largest factor, explaining 19%.

The direct effect of the real estate slump on state revenue isn’t limited to the REET, however. While autos are the most significant factor in declining retail sales, sales in real estate-related industries such as home furnishings, building materials, and specialty contractors have also fallen dramatically.

There has also been a direct impact on employment. The Economic and Revenue Forecast Council (ERFC) projects that construction employment will decline by 12% between the fourth quarter of 2007 and the 1st quarter of 2010.

We’ll talk more about employment tomorrow in Fact 3: People Are Losing Their Jobs.

Underlying data come from the Economic and Revenue Forecast Council and the Department of Revenue.

Five Facts About the Economy and the Deficit Fact 1: People Aren't Buying Stuff

Posted by jeffc at Jan 19, 2009 07:50 AM |

The Washington State budget relies heavily on the retail sales tax. When people buy less stuff, the state collects less revenue. Much of our current deficit problem can be attributed to the precipitous drop in retail sales tax revenue over the last year.

The graph below shows taxable retail sales for each quarter from the first quarter of 2007 through the second quarter of 2008. The percentages are the change in sales from the same quarter in the previous year. At the beginning of 2007, sales were growing by 8% year-over-year. During the last half of 2007, they were growing by less than 6%. By the second quarter of 2008, sales were falling by 2%.


The Department of Revenue will be releasing data for the third quarter of 2008 in a few weeks, but it’s a safe bet that sales have continued to fall. The Economic and Revenue Forecast Council (ERFC) expects that taxable retail sales will be lower in fiscal year 2009 than the prior year. That’s only happened twice in recent history: in 1984 and 2002. The current decrease is expected to be deeper than the two previous times.

The recession has hurt some industries more than others. The graph below shows taxable retail sales at auto dealers. Sales of automobiles, which make up about 8-9% of total sales, have plummeted.


Remember a year ago, when we were worried about a $2.4 billion deficit for the 2009-11 budget? It’s more than doubled since then to become the largest deficit since 1981-83.

Most of the difference between the deficit expected last spring and the current projection is due to reduced revenue expectations. The total amount of general fund revenue expected in the two biennia has fallen by $2.7 billion since the current budget was passed. Sixty-eight percent of the difference is from falling retail sales tax revenue.

Another important factor is the real estate excise tax. More on that tomorrow in Fact 2: People Aren’t Buying Real Estate.

Governor's Budget Undermines Progress

Posted by jeffc at Jan 15, 2009 01:30 PM |
Filed under: State Budget


We released a detailed analysis (pdf) of the Governor's 2009-11 budget proposal today. It approaches the budget from the standpoint of how it measures up against four widely shared values: Education and Opportunity, Thriving Communities, Healthy People and Environment, and Economic Security.

The graph above is from the report and shows the percentage cuts in each of these budget areas. Health care and economic security would take significant hits, including:

  • Cutting tens of thousands of people from state-funded health insurance programs and lowering benefits for many others.
  • Eliminating cash and medical assistance to adults who cannot work due to disability.
  • Terminating benefits for some families receiving temporary assistance.
  • Not only does this reverse the progress we have made in these areas recently, but it couldn't come at a worse time given the economy.

    But don't think education is exempt; outside of basic education, the K-12 budget would be cut by 28 percent. These are programs that are designed to update our schools for the new economy, to attract and retain the best teachers, and to close the achievement gap for lower income students and students of color.

    In short, it's a budget that takes a step in the wrong direction.

    For more information on the four values listed above, see the Progress Index.

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