State Fiscal Briefs

March 2023

Washington’s budget basics

According to the National Association of State Budget Officers (NASBO), Washington’s total expenditures in fiscal year (FY) 2022 were $65.8 billion, including general funds, other state funds, bonds, and federal funds. NASBO reported that total expenditures across all states in FY 2022 were $2.9 trillion, ranging from $5.6 billion in Wyoming to $510.0 billion in California.

Each state allocates spending and taxes differently among different levels of governments, and local governments often administer programs with state funds, so combined state and local government data show a more complete picture of individual benefits and contributions when comparing states.

Per the US Census Bureau, Washington’s combined state and local direct general expenditures were $89.5 billion in FY 2020 (the most recent year census data were available), or $11,589 per capita. (Census data exclude “business-like” activities such as utilities and transfers between state and local governments.) National per capita direct general expenditures were $10,540.

Washington’s largest spending areas per capita were elementary and secondary education ($2,652) and public welfare ($1,824). The Census Bureau includes most Medicaid spending in public welfare but also allocates some of it to public hospitals. Per capita spending is useful for state comparisons but is an incomplete metric because it doesn’t provide any information about a state’s demographics, policy decisions, administrative procedures, or residents’ choices.

Washington’s combined state and local general revenues were $90.4 billion in FY 2020, or $11,706 per capita. National per capita general revenues were $10,933. Washington does not levy an individual income tax or corporate income tax but does have a gross receipts tax. (Census counts this revenue as either general sales tax revenue or selective sales tax revenue.) Washington’s largest sources of per capita revenue were general sales taxes ($2,898) and charges ($2,463), such as state university tuition and highway tolls.

Washington’s politics

Governor Jay Inslee, a Democrat, was elected in 2020 with 57 percent of the vote. The next gubernatorial election is in 2024.

Democrats control both the House of Representatives (58 Democrats to 40 Republicans) and Senate (29 Democrats to 20 Republicans). Control of the governor’s mansion and each house of the legislature gives Democrats a trifecta in Washington. All Washington House seats are on the ballot in 2024 because representatives serve two-year terms. Senators serve four-year terms; roughly half the senatorial seats are on the ballot in 2024, and the other half will be up for election in 2026.

Washington’s budget institutions, rules, and constraints

Washington uses a biennial budget. The legislature must pass a balanced budget, but it can carry a deficit over into the following year. Washington further limits spending growth with a budget rule based on inflation and population growth. The rule is binding and requires a legislative supermajority to override it. Washington also limits total authorized debt incurred by the state but does not limit debt service.

(Note: Some states have informal budget institutions that constrain overall spending growth or a specific expenditure’s growth.)

Washington’s current budget

Governor Inslee released his FY 2024-2025 biennial budget proposal in December 2022 and gave his state of the state address in January 2023.

Washington enacted its FY 2022-2023 biennial budget in May 2021. The enacted budget included $59.2 billion for general fund spending and $122.7 billion in total spending over the two-year period. The FY 2023 supplemental budget was enacted in March 2022 and included a revised $64.1 billion in general fund spending and $130.9 billion in total spending over the two-year period. Washington also passed a major tax cut in calendar year 2021, becoming the first state without an individual income tax to enact a state earned income t