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Spin Control

Posts tagged: budget problems

Spec Sess Day 5: No budget by end of session?

OLYMPIA — A Republican member of the House Ways and Means Committee expressed serious doubts Friday the Legislature would pass a new budget before time ran out on the special session. And the chairman of the committee did nothing to contradict him.

At the start of a hearing on various programs that would be eliminated under Gov. Chris Gregoire's proposed cuts of some $2 billion, Rep. Bill Hinkle, R-Cle Elum, wondered if anyone in the room thought the Legislature “would vote the governor's budget out by the end of special session.”

“I don't think it's going to happen,” Hinkle said. “Are we really going to do that?”

Committee Chairman Ross Hunter, D-Medina, replied that was a question “the chair is unable to answer.”

Hinkle asked for a show of hands for those who thought it would happen, but Hunter didn't allow that vote to proceed, and began taking testimony on a bill to reduce the state's payments to rural hospitals.

Skip regular session? No way, Gregoire says

Gov. Chris Gregoire at Thursday's press conference.

OLYMPIA — While most of Gov. Chris Gregoire's press conference Thursday revolved around the cuts that could be made or should be made, she did field a few questions a bit farther afield.

At one point she was asked what she thought of House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt's recent suggestion that the Legislature do all the work of cutting the budget, and whatever else might need to be done, in the 30-day special session that starts Nov. 28, then save the taxpayers some money by skipping  the regular 60-day session set to start in January. Think they could do that?

“I do not,” she replied. Closing the gap between projected revenues and scheduled expenses will take all of the attention of the special session, even by giving legislators a “jump start” by previewing her budget options a month before they arrive.

“For December, I'm only asking them to focus on the budget…and any crisis we have out there.” In January, the Legislature should “turn our attention to how we put Washington back to work.”

She also denied a recent sale of bonds for the 520 bridge expansion, which relies on variable tolls that would be outlawed by Initiative 1125 if it passes, was intended as a way around the voters, as initiative sponsor Tim Eyman contended Thursday. The state has already begun work on the project, she said, and needs money to pay for it. “That was intended to pay our bills,” she said of the bond sale.

State union to Gregoire: Cut biz tax breaks first

OLYMPIA — The Washington Federation of State Employees has an answer to Gov. Chris Gregoire's request to reopen their contracts and pay more for health care premiums.

It's not quite “hell no” or “drop dead” — or something more colorful but less printable — but it's pretty close.

“Before there’s any talk of taking more from the state workforce she must convene a meeting of corporate entities and ask them to take a 3% cut in any tax break they are already receiving from the taxpayers of the state of Washington,” a message from WFSE Executive Director Greg Devereux, posted on the union's web site, says.

In an interview Wednesday evening, Devereux said the union feels state workers have borne their share of the cuts, a fact which the letter from Office of Financial Management Director Marty Brown basically acknowledges.

Gregoire and other state officials need to look out their windows at the Occupy Olympia protesters encamped on the park grounds below the Capitol, or take note of Occupy Seattle and Spokane demonstrations to realize public sentiment is shifting.

If the governor can convene a group of corporate leaders and get them to agree to giving up some of their exemptions, “we will be happy to come back to the table.”

If not? “We have no interest in going back.”

Gregoire: No special session before November

Gov. Chris Gregoire at the Suncadia Lodge.

CLE ELUM — Washington's economic outlook is so much more likely to get worse in the next two months that Gov. Chris Gregoire said she won't call the Legislature into a special session until November.

“It would be premature for me to call them back before the next forecast. They need to know how large the problem is,” Gregoire said.

Speaking to the annual “policy summit” of the Association of Washington Business, Gregoire said the state's chief economist has told her it's about four times more likely the state's revenue outlook will be worse for his November forecast than it was last week. That's when he said the state can expect a drop of about $1.4 billion from the amount the Legislature expected when it wrote the 2011-13 general fund budget.

Before last week's forecast, Gregoire told state agencies to prepare plans to cut 5 percent and 10 percent from their current appropriations. But Chief Economist Arun Raha's forecast last week essentially blew those apart.

“Neither of those would be enough,” she said.

The asssociation, which represents businesses throughout the state, is holding its annual conference at the Suncadia Lodge, a golf, winery and lodging complex on the eastern slope of the Cascades. Advocates for higher taxes on businesses are massed at the entrance, demanding an end to tax preferences — they use the term loopholes — for businesses rather than another “all cuts” budget.

Gregoire didn't mention a tax preferences of a tax hike in her talk to the business leaders, and none asked her about them in the brief question and answer session after her speech. But she left open the prospect that the state would consider some, urging the crowd “everything is on the table” — presumably taxes as well as cuts.

“I'm asking you… not to draw lines in the sand,” she said.

Gov, legis leaders huddling

OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire and top lesgislative leaders are meeting behind closed doors this afternoon, looking at ways to cut the state’s budget.

Some leaders are here in Olympia, while a few like Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown and Minority Leader Mike Hewitt are on conference call.

Gregoire has said she wants some agreements on what to cut before she’ll bring the Legislature back for a special session to avoid days or even weeks of little activity before the final votes. Sen. Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, argued before the meeting however that she should just call them in and let public pressure keep them to on a short course.

Zarelli also released Senate Republicans’ proposals for cutting the budget. A comparison with the list suggested by Gregoire last week shows some similarities. Both would:

Tap about $205 million in federal funds for education.

Cut about $55 million by eliminating the Disability Lifeline program, which was formerly known as General Assistance/Unemployable, which are payments to some state residents who are disabled and can’t find work.

Cut about $54 million out of the Department of Corrections through staff reductions and program and prison consolidation. McNeil Island’s prison facility would be closed.

Cut about $26 million from the state’s Basic Health plan.

Make changes to the state’s levy equalization system, saving about $18 million under Gregoire’s plan and $21 million under the Senate Rs plan.

But there are some differences. Gregoire would eliminate the K-4 enhancement program, which provides smaller class sizes in the lower grades, and save $81.5 million. Senate Rs would eliminate all day kindergarten, for a savings of $22.6 million, plus eliminate or reduce some bilingual education programs. 

Senate Rs also would put a five-year limit on some welfare programs, and terminate some programs for immigrants and undocumented residents.

House Republicans said they’ll release their proposals after the meeting.

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About this blog

Jim Camden is a veteran political reporter for The Spokesman-Review.

Jonathan Brunt is an enterprise reporter for The Spokesman-Review.

Kip Hill is a general assignments reporter for The Spokesman-Review.

Nick Deshais covers Spokane City Hall for The Spokesman-Review.

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