April 24, 2009 in City

Budget spreads the pain

Thousands in Washington will lose jobs, health care; school cuts: $800 million
Richard Roesler Staff writer
 

OLYMPIA – Here’s some of what Washington residents can expect under a state budget that lawmakers expect to approve this weekend:

•Nearly $800 million in cuts to schools, after figuring in expected federal education dollars.

•7,000 to 8,000 layoffs of teachers, college employees and state workers.

•Tuition increases of nearly 30 percent at the state’s four-year colleges.

•40,000 fewer people on state-subsidized health coverage.

Unable to persuade fellow lawmakers to offset budget cuts with increased taxes, legislative leaders said Thursday they did the best they could to fix a $9 billion shortfall in projected revenue.

“It’s a very difficult and painful budget, but it’s responsible and balanced,” said Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane.

The budget includes about $4 billion in cuts and savings and more than $4 billion in federal stimulus dollars and other one-time moves, such as reducing pension payments.

“I’d like to have a whole lot more money, but you know what? We don’t have it,” said state Sen. Margarita Prentice, D-Renton. “And I think we’re going to have to live with what we have.”

Republicans say Democratic budget writers aren’t living within their means. Instead of creating lasting reforms and smaller government, they say, Democratic budget writers are relying on federal dollars and shifting money around.

“All they’ve done is punted things out two years” to the next budget, said Sen. Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield.

Republicans also point out that state revenues are projected to be slightly higher over the next two years than in the previous two. The $9 billion shortfall is based on what it would have cost to keep state services and programs as-is, including inflation, cost-of-living increases and large increases in health care costs.

Under this budget, the state is still committed to paying for too much, Zarelli said.

“Long term, is it sustainable? This absolutely gets an F,” he said.

Democrats say the cuts are serious and will be widely felt. Rep. Eric Pettigrew, D-Seattle, drew fire from Republicans last week when he repeatedly said that “people will die” as a result of budget cuts.

“I definitely stand by that comment,” he said Thursday, standing in the House wings. “I have no doubt in my mind.”

The full two-year budget will be released this morning. But lawmakers revealed some details to reporters at the Capitol on Thursday evening. Here’s a breakdown:

K-12 education

•Teachers won’t get any state cost of living increase for the next two years, saving $353 million. (State workers and college staffers won’t get the raises, either.)

•State dollars to reduce class sizes will shrink by $600 million, but the state will pay for smaller classes from kindergarten through fourth grade.

•The average cut per school district is 2.6 percent.

Based on the information released Thursday, the state teachers union said it looks like the education cuts may exceed $1 billion.

“We need to be honest about how these cuts are going to hurt students,” Washington Education Association President Mary Lindquist said.

Higher education

•After factoring in tuition increases, reductions will be 7 percent at Washington State University and the University of Washington, 6.5 percent at Eastern Washington University and other regional colleges, and 6 percent at community colleges.

•Tuition will rise 14 percent a year at the four-year schools and 7 percent a year at community colleges.

•There will be room for 9,028 fewer students at the colleges.

Prentice said lawmakers are worried that the changes will make it harder for middle-class people to go to college.

“But we are where we are,” she said.

Health, human services

•The state’s Basic Health Plan, which covers the working poor, will shrink by 40,000 people through attrition. That will save $255 million.

•General Assistance for the Unemployable, which provides health care and $339-a-month stipends to people judged unable to work, was preserved. The medical coverage will be revamped to save $60 million.

•Long-term care programs will see state reimbursements reduced by 4 percent.

•Adult day health programs for people who live in their homes were preserved, although the budget cuts state transportation funding to get those people to centers.

Corrections

•Lawmakers still plan to close a state prison, but they won’t decide which one for months.

Natural resources

•No state parks will close. Lawmakers are asking vehicle owners to pay an extra $5 annually to support parks. The fee is voluntary.

•No fish hatcheries will close unless state fees fall short of what’s projected.

Jobs and pay

•State agencies will have to find $250 million in administrative cuts, including layoffs, worker furloughs and reduced work hours.

Richard Roesler can be reached at (360) 664-2598 or at richr@spokesman.com. For more news from Olympia, please see www.eyeonolympia.com.


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