January 26, 2009 in City, Region

House Democrats eye more than $600 million in cuts

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Eye on Olympia
Read more Washington Legislature news at Richard Roesler’s blog, Eye on Olympia.

OLYMPIA – Rushing to save money before Washington’s budget woes worsen, House Democrats on Monday proposed cuts and other changes that they said will save $640 million by July.

“We know there is going to be significant pain as a result of actions we’re going to have to take,” state Rep. Kelli Linville, D-Bellingham, said in prepared remarks.

Senate Democrats and the governor have proposed different plans. Lawmakers hope to quickly hash out the differences.

“We need to get these early action items into the pipeline so that we can save more earlier,” House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam, said Thursday, as lawmakers were preparing the list.

The 322-page House proposal calls for:

•Cutting Washington State University spending by $10.5 million,

•Reducing state payments to nursing homes, adult family home and boarding homes by 3 percent,

•Cutting Eastern Washington University spending by $2.8 million,

•Shrinking state payments to local mental health networks by more than $10 million statewide,

•Only letting one person onto the state’s Basic Health plan for every two that leave, meaning 10,000 fewer people and $6.7 million less in spending by July,

•Trimming the budget at the Spokane Intercollegiate Research and Technology Institute by $18,000,

•Training 100 fewer National Guard troops as firefighters, saving $94,000.

The proposal also counts some savings that have already happened, like a computer network project at Eastern State Hospital that saved $840,000, or the closure of the Museum of Arts and Culture’s Campbell House, saving $52,000.

More than half the budget relief comes from federal dollars. The federal government is increasing medical assistance and welfare dollars, which together are expected to save the state $338 million by July. Another $91 million comes from shifting money between state funds. Actual reductions total about $302 million.

Linville, the House’s chief budget writer, last week vowed to try to protect the state’s social safety net. Among the things spared: state-subsidized health coverage for children.

The House plan calls for WSU to slow or halt hiring, restrict travel and cut back on some courses.

“It is expected that WSU will minimize the impact on academic programs, maximize reductions in administrative areas, and will maintain” current enrollment targets, the plan says.

It directs Eastern to do the same: avoid filling vacant positions, limit travel, and buy fewer supplies and less equipment than planned. If that’s not enough, the university will dip into its savings to make up the difference.

The plan calls from community colleges to save nearly $31 million in the next six months, also by avoiding filling vacancies and putting off travel and equipment purchases.

“In addition, some colleges will lay off staff, beginning with employees not directly serving students,” the plan says. If necessary, it says, the state “will next lay off student support staff, such as counselors and advisers, and lastly, faculty.”

Richard Roesler can be reached by e-mail at richr@spokesman.com

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