OLYMPIA — Legislators will try to fill some of the looming budget gap next week, but won't come close to the $2 billion in cuts Gov. Chris Gregoire proposed last month.
Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown said she expects a budget proposal to be introduced Monday that will address a “substantial piece” of the projected shortfall. She declined to list a specific number, but hinted the amount could be between $100 million and $500 million.
It will be an amount that a majority of legislators in both chambers can agree on, she said. Further cuts and government reforms will come up in the regular session, due to start Jan. 9, she said: “We'll still have a long way to go.”
The Legislature won't vote on Gregoire's request for a temporary half-cent sales tax in the special session. The governor had asked for that by the end of the session to put the proposal before voters in March, and buy back some of the $2 billion in cuts she was asking legislators to approve in the emergency 30-day session.
“I thought that was an overly ambitious assignment from the start,” Brown said.
On Thursday, Gregoire also publically scaled back her expectations, saying she'd be happy with a “significant downpayment” on budget cuts and didn't expect passage of the sales tax proposal.
“I don't see any revenue measures in the special session,” Brown said. Legislators first want to consider reforms and set priorities on programs. Some of the governor's proposed cuts would save money initially by ending programs, but cost money in the long run. One such example is a proposal to make cuts to “critical access hospitals” in rural areas, which actually cost the hospitals double because the facilities would lose federal money as well as state money, she said.
Legislators are also not inclined to eliminate the Basic Health program or the Disability Lifeline, Brown said, or to make cuts in Corrections Programs, as Gregoire has proposed.