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February 10, 2010 at 11:55 AM

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State budget gap estimate grows by $96 million

Posted by Jim Brunner

Washington's budget shortfall grew by about $96 million Wednesday morning as lawmakers received the latest forecast of caseloads and enrollment costs for schools, health care and services for the poor and disabled.

The new figure was reported to the Washington State Caseload Forecast Council, a group that tries to objectively measure future state expenses that lawmakers can use in writing the budget.

It means state lawmakers now face roughly a $2.7 billion budget shortfall, instead of $2.6 billion.

The additional $96 million expense is mostly due to higher-than-expected costs at K-12 schools, according to Victor Moore, budget director for Gov. Chris Gregoire.

As school districts have laid off teachers, they've tended to cut younger teachers while retaining more experienced ones who get higher pay, Moore said. That threw off previous estimates of how much the state would need to set aside for teacher salaries.

In any event, this isn't really a game changer for the Legislature. The extra $96 million is relatively paltry in the grand scheme of state's $32 billion general-fund budget.

Lawmakers will get more important information Friday, when the latest forecast of state tax collections comes out.

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Jim Brunner
Covers politics.

Keith Ervin
Covers the Eastside.

Andrew Garber
Covers politics and state government from Olympia.

Emily Heffter
Covers local government.

Mike Lindblom
Covers transportation.

Kyung Song
Covers politics and regional issues from Washington, D.C.

Lynn Thompson
Covers Seattle City Hall.

Bob Young
Covers King County and urban affairs.