OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire's administration is beginning to show a certain frustration with the slow pace of the Legislature in its 30-day special session.
Office of Financial Management Director Marty Brown today sent all 147 legislators an e-mail saying the state is burning through $41 million a day with the current level of programs, policies and salaries in the 2011-13 budget. That's Gregoire's reason for bringing legislators back to Olympia early in an effort to pass a revised budget that would cut about $2 billion from those projected expenses.
Failing to pass a budget in the special session, and waiting until the regular session that begins Jan. 9, puts the state farther behind, and would require more cuts in more programs, Brown said.
The e-mail follows a week in which the legislative progress might have to be measured with a magnifying glass. An emergency bill to bail out the Wenatchee Public Facilities District and avoid default to that district's investors needed to pass by Dec. 1; that deadline passed with no action on the first proposal, and House Ways and Means managed to approve a revised bailout package late Friday.
One Republican House member openly doubted the Legislature would even vote on the governor's budget proposal in the special session. Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, said in a TVW interview that they were looking at changing legislative rules so that bills that pass only one house in the special session don't have to go back to that chamber and start all over again when the regular session begins in January.
Thanks to pro-forma floor sessions and a lack of committee hearings, most senators took a four-day weekend. Budget leaders remained behind in Olympia, but there's no sign yet of any progress they might have made.
To read Brown's e-mail to legislators, click here to go inside the blog.
Subject: The urgency of budget action
Members of the Legislature:
Many of you know that I worked for nearly 20 years as a legislative committee staff member, on caucus staff and in legislative administration. I have worked with most of you and very closely with two Governors as budget director and know how seriously you take your responsibilities. I know that all of us, elected officials and staff, want what is best for the people of Washington. We know that the numbers in the budget represent real people who need services. We also know that we can’t afford all the services we are currently providing right now.
During my time on legislative staff, I worked with members to cut budgets, craft revenue proposals and even helped draft the state lottery during the recession in the early 1980’s. I can’t say I fully understand how gut-wrenching the decisions you have to make are because I have never run for office or faced the voters following these decisions. What you are doing right now is hard. Having helped the Governor with her decisions I have a good idea what is in front of you and it is daunting.
When I served as legislative staff, I always thought after the budget was adopted it was over and done with. I was wrong. Now I’ve spent nearly 15 years in the executive branch and know how hard it can be to implement the decisions made in an adopted budget. Our state government spends about $41 million a day. Every day that goes by, we can’t get that money back. Your state agencies need time to put into effect the policy and budget changes that affect clients and providers all over the state.
Faced with all this, I do want to say that time is of the essence. Many of the savings assumptions in the Governor’s proposals are based upon January implementation dates. If we go to February or later our assumed savings drop and other more difficult decisions need to be made. I intended to make some of these points in my testimony earlier this week but circumstances prevented it.
My staff and I are always available to help if needed. Thank you for your service in these very difficult times.