Rep. Timm Ormsby, chair of the House Appropriations Committee, and Rep. Paul Harris, member of the House Health Care and Wellness Committee, discussed the status of the state’s budget amidst the current surge in COVID-19 cases at the 2021 Inland Northwest State of Reform Health Policy Conference earlier this month.
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“I feel more vulnerable now in terms of my constituents and their health, and the broader implications throughout the state. [The Delta variant] is going to have a huge impact,” said Ormsby.
Ormsby asserted that the impact of the rise of the Delta variant should not be underestimated, but that the full impact on the budget remains unclear.
“I have not asked staff about the specific status of our reserves because I think it’s immaterial at this point because we don’t know what the need … is going to be. And I don’t think we’re going to know until we get to the other side of this particular crisis, while we wait for the other shoe to drop on what comes up next. And I think we’re just in the difficult, unenviable position of making real-time decisions on information we do not yet have that could have implications in the future for things we can’t predict.”
While many legislators in the state oppose Gov. Jay Inslee’s emergency orders, which have now been in effect for over 500 days, Ormsby said he believes the state is more strained now than it was at the peak of cases in December and January 2021. He emphasized he does not believe the emergency to be over.
Ormsby also commented on the $1.2 billion lawmakers put into an unappropriated account for the Department of Health to draw from in case of crisis, which he says may not be enough. Ormsby says, as a result of the funds potentially reverting back to the federal government, the state budget is in limbo.
“It is not as uncertain as it was last year this time when we didn’t have a vaccine, but the fact that we’re having to have the [crisis standards of care] being inserted in my region gives me great pause about what our health care system is going to look like.”
Harris offered an optimistic perspective on the status of the state budget, stating:
“We’re still bringing in good revenues in our state, we are very blessed and very fortunate. I think [we have] about three billion more dollars than we anticipated. I think we still have about one to two billion dollars in federal stimulus money that we still haven’t spent, but probably a lot of it is earmarked. So we’re not in terrible shape by any means … our revenues continue to increase …”