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Eye On Olympia

Posts tagged: Jason Mercier

Budget-crisis suggestions, from insiders and the hinterlands…

From the print paper:

Think back to the last time you renewed your driver’s license. Do you remember the shoes on the person behind the counter?

Of course not. But you probably paid for them. Taxpayers provide a $97-a-year “shoe allowance” for the 330 folks working at the state’s 60-plus driver licensing offices. You also pick up the tab for the employees’ shirts, pants, sweaters, jackets and hats, as well as a $27-a-month stipend for dry cleaning.

With Washington’s government facing a $5 billion to $6 billion budget shortfall over the next two years, residents are trying to find new ways to save. Doing away with the clothing allowance was among the nearly 2,000 ideas submitted over the past few weeks to Gov. Chris Gregoire, who recently release a budget proposal including deep spending cuts.

“We looked at all the suggestions and had them in mind as we were making decisions” on that proposal, said Glenn Kuper, a spokesman for the governor’s budget office. Many of the ideas, he said, could also be wrapped into a broader package of government reforms Gregoire plans to propose in January.

Gregoire’s budget plan: “the nightmare before Christmas” for the social safety net?

In Friday morning’s paper:

Before unveiling her budget plan Thursday, Gov. Chris Gregoire glanced around the crowded room.

“Before we begin,” she said, “I’d like to ask all of you to remove your shoes and take them outside. Particularly boots.”

That was the first and last joke of the somber 45-minute presentation, as Gregoire laid out a no-new-taxes proposal for deep state budget cuts to close an unprecedented $5.7 billion budget shortfall over the next two years.

“I hate it,” Gregoire said of her budget plan. “Nothing went untouched.”

Among the proposed cuts:

-halting nearly $700 million in planned cost-of-living raises for state workers and teachers for two years,

-cutting the Basic Health Plan, a state health insurance program for the working poor, by 42 percent,

-laying off more than 2,400 state workers,

-at least a 12 percent across-the-board budget cut at the state’s four-year colleges,

-a 6 percent cut for community colleges,

-cutting community mental health and chemical dependency services by $53 million,

-doing away with health care and small monthly checks for more than 20,000 people deemed unemployable, often due to mental health problems. At least 2,000 of those people are in Spokane.

-and cutting money for new affordable housing in half.

The depth of the cuts stunned social service advocates, labor leaders and others.

“Some of these programs really are the most extreme form of safety net,” said Nick Federici, a lobbyist for human services groups. “To us, this really is the nightmare before Christmas.”

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Richard Roesler covers Washington state news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Olympia.

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