This story is part of an NPR nationwide analysis of states' revenue and budgets during the pandemic.
In Washington state, tax collections are expected to tumble by $8.8 billion over the next three years. For context, the state's current two-year budget is about $53 billion.
In response, Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee ordered furloughs for approximately 40,000 general government workers — something not seen in the state since the Great Recession. He also canceled planned pay raises for about 5,600 higher-earning state employees, mostly agency directors and managers.
In May, the governor's budget office told state agencies to identify potential cuts of 15%. The picture that emerged from that exercise was bleak: slashed payments to providers of social services, state employee layoffs and 3,700 fewer course offerings at community and technical colleges — to name just a few examples.
"If we actually had a budget like this, it would be horrifying," says David Schumacher, the governor's budget director. A special session to begin to address the budget is possible later this year. Already, majority Democrats in the Legislature are signaling that an all-cuts budget is unlikely and that taxes are on the table.