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Thu., Sept. 22, 2011, 11:49 a.m.

Special session on budget starts Nov. 28

OLYMPIA -- The Legislature gets to spend the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas playing Scrooge to state agencies.

Gov. Chris Gregoire said she is calling legislators back for a special session starting Nov. 28 to deal with declining revenue projections that are likely to decline even more before they get here.

Nov. 28 is the Monday after Thanksgiving, and by law a special session can last up to 30 days. How long it lasts is up to legislators, who will be wrestling with Gregoire's request to cut $2 billion out of the budget they approved for the 2011-13 fiscal cycle just five months ago...

...That budget started at $31.7 billion, so $2 billion is technically a cut of about 6.3 percent.

But about a fourth of that $31.7 billion will already be spent by the time the Legislature meets, and about $2 billion of it covers items that can't easily be touched, such as basic education programs in public schools, Medicaid and other health care programs required by the federal government, and payments on pensions and debts the state owes.

That leaves about $8.7 billion that hasn't been spent and can be more easily cut. Taking $2 billion out of that is a 23 percent cut.

Last week's revenue forecast said the state is down about $1.4 billion from the amount legislators thought they had when they settled on the budget in May. But that would mean wiping out all the reserves and the Rainy Day Fund; Gregoire and some legislative leaders have said the better target is a $2 billion cut, to provide some money in reserve against the prospect of more bad fiscal news in 2012.

According to data from the Office of Financial Management, among the programs in that $8.7 billion are:

Human Services: $4.2 billion
Higher Education: $1.8 billion
Dept. of Corrections: $1.2 billion
K-12 outside Basic Ed: $612 million
Other government agencies and  operations: $888 million

Gregoire said she'll have a plan for spending cuts -- essentially a supplemental budget that is normally submitted when a Legislature convenes in January of an even-numbered year -- available before they get to town. They'll use that as a starting point, but with hearings in two chambers and different ideas from four separate caucuses, the final plan could look significantly different.

Technically, a full 30 days would take them past Christmas, to Dec. 27. Gregoire said she hopes they get done early, and she won't call them back for another special session if they don't finish in 30 days.

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Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981. He is currently the political reporter and state government reporter in the newspaper's Olympia bureau office.

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