Spin Control

TUESDAY, DEC. 20, 2011, 5:17 P.M.

Gregoire signs budget; tougher decisions ahead

OLYMPIA -- Rep. Ross Hunter, chairman of the House budget committee, checks his tan on the back of his hands after Gov. Chris Gregoire says legislators should show up for the regular session
OLYMPIA -- Rep. Ross Hunter, chairman of the House budget committee, checks his tan on the back of his hands after Gov. Chris Gregoire says legislators should show up for the regular session "tan, rested and ready" to pass some $1.5 billion budget changes. She made the comment while signing a supplemental budget that found only about a fourth of the savings she requested during a special session. (Jim Camden)

Rep. Ross Hunter checks his hands for tan after Gov. Chris Gregoire says legislators need to show up "tan, rested and ready" in January to cut more than the budget she signed Tuesday.

OLYMPIA – With advice to the Legislature to show up “tan, rested and ready” in January to finish fixing the state’s budget problems, Gov. Chris Gregoire signed the $480 million “downpayment” supplemental budget.

It is, Rep. Ross Hunter, chairman of the House budget committee, said, merely the first supplemental budget of the two-year fiscal cycle.

“Count on it,” Gregoire replied, adding the votes needed to find another $1.5 billion in savings will present legislators with “the worst votes they’re ever going to take in their lives.”

The budget signed Tuesday had bipartisan support in both chambers, but involves a number of fund transfers and accounting maneuvers to accomplish some of the savings...

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... For example, the state “saves” $49 million by delaying for nine months a payment to schools for transportation maintenance. It sells abandoned securities without the current three-year wait, for a quick, one-time gain of about $50 million.
Gregoire also signed bills passed during the short special session that allow set up more training programs for aerospace workers, allow military spouses to receive permits or licenses quicker when they move to Washington if they have similar certification in another state, and provide mediation on some home foreclosures.
Decisions on some major program changes, which Gregoire has proposed by legislators oppose, lay ahead for the General Fund budget. They include such things as fewer days in the school year, major reductions in levy equalization for poorer school districts, or elimination of the state’s Basic Health and Disability Lifeline programs. She also supports asking voters to approve a three-year, half-cent increase in the state sales tax to “buy back” some of those programs.
Gregoire repeated her support for the sales tax increase, both when signing the budget reductions and announcing a new Opportunity Scholarship program designed to help students with good grades and an aptitude for math and science get into colleges when it seems just out of reach for their middle-class families. The state has received grants of $25 million each from Boeing and Microsoft, and has placed $5 million into a scholarship fund that aims to eventually reach $1 billion.
Even with the new scholarship fund, the state is “out of balance” between the level of cuts it has made to public schools and universities, the sharp increases in college tuition, and the money available to help students, she said.
The board appointed to oversee the scholarships, and set the criteria for qualifying, includes Jim Albaugh, president and chief executive officer of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, Brad Smith, general counsel for Microsoft and Jerry Grinstein, a venture capitalist and former CEO of Delta Air Lines.
While they didn’t come out firmly in support of a sales tax increase, Smith said Gregoire’s proposal focuses on what the state needs most.Revenues have to be something we consider,” Albaugh said. “We support additional funds for education.”

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Jim Camden
Jim Camden is the Olympia bureau chief, covering the Legislature and state government. He also is a political columnist and blogger for Spin Control.

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