Posts tagged: budget cuts
OLYMPIA — The state attorney general's office will weigh in on a potential fight between the Legislature and the Executive branch over the meaning of three little words: “within available funds.”
Those three words appear twice in a 2005 statute that requires state agencies to develop “quality management systems” to help figure out ways to do their jobs better. Most agencies have never done such assessments because the deadlines were delayed and then the recession hit and budgets tightened.
This year, the governor's office asked for another delay. The Legislature said no, but it also didn't set aside any extra money for the assessments. Last month, Marty Brown, director of the Office of Financial Management, told agency leaders not to perform the quality management assessments because after billions of dollars of budget cuts, the funds aren't available.
“The intent was, if you had the money you would do this; if you didn't, you wouldn't,” Brown said Thursday.
In the statute's three paragraphs that call for the development of quality management systems, the first two contain the words “within available funds.” The third paragrah does not add that caveat.
Two legislative Democrats, Rep. Mark Miloscia of Federal Way and Sen. Jim Kastama of Puyallup, who are running respectively for state auditor and secretary of state, are challenging the order to drop the quality assessments. They sent a letter to Gov. Chris Gregoire, objecting to Brown's directive to the agencies, and a separate letter to the attorney general's office, asking for an opinion on whether the assessments have to be done.
“They're getting rid of accountability,” Miloscia said in an interview Thursday.
Not so, says Brown. The state has other programs to improve performance, such as the Lean system that private businesses use to look for waste and the Government Management Accountability Project.
But those look at different things, Miloscia said. If a governor can ignore this law that requires state agencies to do something, he or she could ignore other laws requiring other actions. He drafted the legislation in 2005 and contends it says “within available funds” because the Legislature never intended to give the agencies extra money for the assessments. They'd have to find ways to pay for it within the budgets they had.
In the past, the Legislature approved delays requested by Gregoire. This year, it dropped the requested delay from the final budget deal that passed on the last day of the special session. But it didn't come up with any extra money, and it didn't repeal the words “within available funds” from the existing law.
Deputy Solicitor General Jeffrey Even said he would research the question and come up with an informal opinion about the legal meaning of those words. That analysis typically takes about two months, he said, so it should be available by mid August.
OLYMPIA — School administrators, teachers, middle school pupils and college students pleaded with a Senate panel to spare many of the programs on the chopping block in a budget fix proposed by Gov. Chris Gregoire.
Some broke down in tears when they described state programs that kept them in school or returned them so they could graduate. One group of technical college students played a YouTube video in an effort to convince legislators that budget cuts now would darken the future for years to come.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn criticized Gregoire's plan to save $99 million in the General Fund by cutting four days from the school year in 2012-13 and another $152 million by rearranging the levy equalization system so that poor school districts get less and more affluent districts could get none at all.
“Cutting four school days is simply not going to help students,” Dorn said. “Kids deserve an opportunity to reach their maximum potential.”
Students from Renton Technical College played a video they produced called “Don't Cut the Solution” (above) which features those in welding, computer aided design, medical assistants, auto technology and culinary arts holding up signs that said they had been unemployed but can expect to be working, and paying taxes, when they graduate.
The committee's opening hearing on the budget was interrupted for about a half-hour Tuesday by protesters who demanded the committee abandon its rules and abide by their rules for a “general assembly.” Several of those protesters were escorted or carried out of the committee room before that hearing could continue.
There were no such interruptions Wednesday. The committee, which has primary budget-writing authority in the Senate, will hold a hearing Thursday afternoon on proposed cuts to state Social Service programs, Health and Long-term Care programs on Monday afternoon, natural resources and general government programs Tuesday afternoon.
OLYMPIA — Voters could be asked to approve a half-cent sales tax increase next March to help replace a portion of the $1.7 billion in cuts the Legislature will face when it convenes next week for a special session.
Gov. Chris Gregoire said this morning she would propose an “all-cuts” budget that will affect schools, colleges, social services for the poor and elderly and public safety.
“You will see more devastating cuts,” Gregoire said.
She will also ask legislators to let voters approve, through a March referendum, raising increase the state’s sales tax from 6.5 percent to 7 percent for three years, starting in August.
That would raise an estimated $494 million in fiscal 2013, which the referendum would require to be split so that $411 million goes offset proposed cuts to education, $42 million would offset proposed cuts to long-term care and developmental disability services and $41 million would replace proposed cuts to public safety programs.
Gregoire denied that she was proposing cuts to key programs as a “scare tactic” to push through a tax increase.
“These are not hypothetical cuts, they are real,” she said. “I’m being honest with the people of Washington.”
OLYMPIA – State agencies will prepare plans to cut their budgets by as much as 10 percent as Washington braces for the prospect that the next state economic forecast could be worse than the last one.
Orders were sent Monday to agencies that rely on the state’s general fund to identify what they would cut if their budget was reduced by 5 percent, and what they would cut if it was dropped another 5 percent beyond that.
Marty Brown, director of the Office of Financial Management, said the instructions are indirectly related to the ongoing federal debate over raising the debt ceiling. But the fact they came on a day when the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped more than 600 points was a coincidence, he added.
“I wish we were that well-prepared,” Brown said when asked about a link to the stock market plunge…
Casualties of budget cuts include the state's free Quit Line, designed to help people stop smoking, as the Living Will Registry where people could record their living wills and durable powers of attorney.
As the Associated Press reported today, state Health Department dropped its participation in the Quitline, which offered free help to smokers. The number, 1-800-784-8669, still works. It's operated by the American Cancer Society, which refers callers who have private insurance or Medicaid, to stop-smoking help.
The department also stopped taking new entries in the Living Will Registry, which started four years ago and had received about 2,500 entries from people and had access to about 200 health care facilities. They remain on the registry, but no new submissions are being taken. The move saves the department about $104,000.
OLYMPIA – When the party that’s in becomes the party that’s out, one can expect an increase of unhappy people coalescing and demonstrating against the new order.
But if one is aligned with the party that’s in, and those leaders aren’t doing what one thinks are the right things, is it still possible to raise the call, assemble the troops and storm the barricades?(All together now: “Aux armes, citoyens/Formez vos battalions, marchon, marchon…” *)
Groups generally allied with the Democratic Party may discover that this week in Olympia. Labor unions, progressive community action groups, social service organizations and others plan four days of escalating protests in the Capitol, starting Tuesday. They’ll demand something that legislators have repeatedly said they won’t do:
OLYMPIA — A coalition of labor unions, church groups, social service workers and progressive organizations plan to bring thousands of protesters to the state capital next week for a series of escalating demonstrations against budget cuts.
They'll try to put pressure on state legislators, who are still struggling to write a general operating fund budget for 2011-13, to end some tax exemptions for businesses rather than cutting money for social services, health care and education.
They're calling it a Week of Action, although technically against what they contend is “an immoral budget”.
It will start Tuesday with what organizers say could be a few hundred people from the Olympia area by a group calling itself Parents Organizing for Welfare and Economic Rights.
On Wednesday a group calling itself the Alliance for a Just Society will be bringing people from around the state to Olympia to demand adequate funding for education and health care.
As part of the demonstrations, mental health care workers in Western Washington will stage a one-day strike on Thursday, not against their employers but against the state, which provides the bulk of their pay.
“We will come to Olympia to picket the Legislature,” Jonathan Rosenblum of Service Employees International Union 1199 said. Arrangements will be made with employers to provide adequate care for patients with acute medical needs. They'll be joined by home health care workers and some of their clients, and some church groups.
On Friday, the Washington State Labor Council, state employees unions and community activists will stage a demonstration that they say could bring as many as 6,000 to the Capitol for a rallly.
A common thread will be the demand that the Legislature consider closing some tax exemptions — the demonstrators prefer the term loopholes — for businesses. “Our economy was trashed by billionaires and bankers,” Greg Devereaux of the state employees union said. But the Legislature is going balance the budget by cutting programs for the poor and for students, he said.
Some leaders of the upcoming demonstrations suggested a few tax exemptions that should go — breaks for corporate jets or country club dues — but nothing that would come near closing the $5.1 billion gap between projected revenues and the cost of all current programs. Some said they wouldn't touch the state's biggest tax exemption, the lack of a sales tax on food and prescription drugs.
Ending tax exemptions would be difficult this year, legislators of both parties have said, because they are considered a tax increase and an initiative voters passed last November that requires a two-thirds majority for any tax increase.
OLYMPIA — Spokane social service agencies, facing budget cuts like anyone who gets some money from the state, hosted lunch for the Spokane-area legislators today and used an old Saturday Night Fever song to make their point:
Groups that work with street kids, substance abuse patients, juvenile offenders and a host of other social programs held their annual Homesick for Spokane luncheon, featuring Longhorn Barbecue and table decorations that had the Our Kids Our Business pinwheel theme.
They've cut pay, expenses and staff, and they know more bad budget news is on the horizon with the state revenue forecast due to be released Thursday at noon. Just don't forget about us when you get down to the nitty gritty of building the expense side of the ledger line-by-line, they said.
When legislators got a chance to talk, most offered as many assurances as possible, which is to say, not much. Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown said legislative efforts so far have been to scale back many state social programs rather than eliminate some of the key ones like Gov. Chris Gregoire proposed earlier. They won't know until the revenue forecast comes out if that strategy will hold up.
Republican Rep. John Ahern used some of his time to try to goad Brown into supporting his bill to eliminate the statute of limitations for child sex offenders. It passed 98-0 in the House but can't get a committee hearing in the Senate, he said. Anyone who would vote yes is voting for kids and anyone voting no is voting for pedaphiles, he suggested.
Ahern needs to deal with Sen. Jim Hargrove, the chairman of the Human Services and Corrections Committee which was assigned the bill, Brown said. A hearing is up to him.
When Ahern suggested Brown should apply pressure, Brown was emphatic. She wouldn't override her committee chairman. Deal with Hargrove, she said.
OLYMPIA — The state could balance its books by the end of the June by cutting more funds for school children, dropping payments to small school districts, eliminating some health care programs on March 1, and mailing checks worth some $253 million a day later.
Those are the main proposals in Gov. Chris Gregoire’s supplemental budget that seeks to keep Washington state out of the red through the remainder of the fiscal year.
Last week, the Legislature cut some $588 million out of the General Fund budget that pays for programs and salaries through June 30. But economic forecasts in November suggested the state had a gap of about $1.1 billion between what it could expect to collect in tax revenues and what it had on the books to spend.
That left about $512 million the Legislature will have to to cut when the Legislature convenes next month. Gregoire’s proposals for those cuts, as announced this afternoon, include:
· Eliminating additional state funds for kindergarten through 4th grade class size reduction efforts for the entire 2010–11 school year, saving $42.1 million.
· Reducing levy equalization payments to eligible districts by 6.287 percent for Fiscal Year 2011, saving $18.0 million.
· Shifting part of the June 2011 apportionment payment to school districts from the last business day of June 2011 to the first business day of July 2011. This will result in $253 million in savings in the 2009–11 budget.
· Eliminating all subsidized insurance from the Basic Health Plan beginning March 1, 2011, which covers about 66,000 people, to save $26.8 million in General Fund-State and $21.3 million in other funds.
· Eliminating the Disability Lifeline Grant and Medical programs, saving $43.5 million in GF-S and $22.6 million in federal funds.
The biggest savings, which comes from delaying payments to school districts by one day, shifts that cost into the next biennium. It is sometimes called an accounting gimmick, because the state has to make the payment, and is merely shifting it to a new budgeting period.
In practice, the state General Fund would borrow that money from other state funds that have surpluses on July 1 and pay it back over the two-year budget cycle that starts that day. The General Fund borrows and repays other funds throughout the year because of cash-flow problems, but because the state must close its books for the 2009-11 biennium on June 30 without a deficit, state officials said it is easier to repay that money over the next two years than the remaining months in this biennium.
It’s a gimmick, several state officials conceded, but it allows the state to end the biennium without a deficit.
Rep. Gary Alexander of Olympia, the ranking Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, said he supports many of the governor’s suggestions for cutting programs in March that she wants to cut in the next biennium, such as Disability Lifeline and Basic Health. Those cuts are “inevitable”, he said, and making them sooner increases the savings to the state.
But he doesn’t support shifting the June apportionment payment to schools to July 1. He likened it to another accounting gimmick the state used several decades ago in an economic downturn, when it continued to count revenue from the month after the biennium closed to pay for expenses incurred earlier. Expenses continued to outpace revenues and slide forward, and it took the state years to recover from the so-called “25th month,” Alexander said.
“One of our objectives… is to develop a sustainable budget,” he said.
OLYMPIA — Reaction to Gov. Chris Gregoire’s proposed 2011-13 budget continues to come in from groups who don’t like parts of it.
It balances the budget on the backs of toddlers. — Washington State Association of Head Start and ECAP.
Endangers families across the state. — Poverty Action Network.
Complete statements can be found inside the blog.
Think you can cut the federal deficit better than those bozos in Congress? Here’s your chance to do it…at least on paper.
The New York Times has a new budget game with a series of options for various cuts. You might notice that some of the most popular solutions, such as eliminating earmarks or instituting medical malpractice reform, don’t get you very far, but reductions to entitlements like Social Security and Medicare do.
OLYMPIA — The Legislature is scheduled to wrap up a week from today, although some legislators are saying they wouldn’t bet the rent or the budget on that happening. Tax and spending proposals still have to be reconciled, and many people mention “25 and 50”.
It’s not a second grade arithmetic question, it’s the bare minimum of votes any plan has to get in the Senate and House, respectively, to pass. It doesn’t seem that any plan yet will pass that test.
In the meantime, Olympic athletes from Washington will be honored with a resolution during the day and a reception in the evening at the governor’s mansion.
Evergreen State College students are taking part in a nationwide protest against cuts to higher education programs and are planning to travel from the campus to the Capitol this afternoon as part of their demonstration. One report is they plan to bring a coffin to carry up the steps. Extra state troopers will be on hand to make sure, in the words of on state official “all are kept civil.”
Half of the reductions would come from patrol officers, and another four would be detectives, she said. The cuts, plus a series of staff realignments, would allow the department to concentrate on what Kirkpatrick called the foundation of its mission, servicing 9-1-1 calls.
Like other city departments, police have been told to find a 4.07 percent reduction from their 2009 budget because of anticipated reductions in tax revenues. For police, that’s nearly $2 million the city will have to find in budget deliberations that begin in November and must conclude in December.
On Thursday, Spokane Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick gathered with other city officials and about 100 of officers and civilian employees to talk about how the department might have to cut about $2 million in 2010. Tomorrow, Sen. Maria Cantwell will meet with about a dozen members of the local medical community for a roundtable to discuss improvements to the health care system.
These two very different meetings had two things in common.
One is that they involve issues of major public concern. If the city cuts the Police Department by $2 million, it’s a pretty good bet we’ll have fewer cops on the street. Improving or reforming the health care system also affects the public – or at least those who get sick at some point in their life.
The other common element was that the public wasn’t, or in the case of Cantwell’s health roundtable isn’t, invited and for pretty much the same reason people often use when they want to meet away from the public eye: Allowing the news media and the public in would inhibit the free exchange of comments and ideas.
In other words, people who have wise or valuable or otherwise important stuff to say might not say it in front of strangers. Or folks who don’t think like them. Or who don’t know what they know. Or who don’t understand what they understand.
Spokane Police were told Thursday to begin thinking creatively about a cut to their budget next year which could top $2 million.
Chief Anne Kirkpatrick, Mayor Mary Verner and Chief Financial Officer Gavin Cooley held a closed-door meeting with more than 100 members of the department, both commissioned and civilian, to say that the budget looks steady for 2009 but cuts may be coming in 2010.
At a press briefing outside the meeting, Kirkpatrick emphasized that nothing has been settled and all options were “on the table.” All city departments have been told to look at ways to cut their budget by 4.07 percent in 2010, and for the police department, that would be about $2.2 million.
“We’re not making major changes right now in 2009,” Kirkpatrick said. “We must prepare for 2010.”
Personnel cuts of between 20 and 50 employees have been mentioned, but only as a starting point for discussions, Kirkpatrick said.