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Agencies told to outline duties

In advance of state cuts, departments must indicate which tasks are required

Washington state agencies have been ordered to compile a list of their tasks – and whether they’re required by federal law or the state constitution – in preparation for budget cuts next year.

An Oct. 15 memo from the state Office of Financial Management, the governor’s budget agency, tells all agency directors to describe the work their agency does, the number of employees the work takes and the amount it costs the state’s general fund.

Most agencies must submit their reports by today, although the Department of Social and Health Services, one of the state’s biggest agencies, has until next week.

Agencies must indicate whether mandated activities are required by a constitutional provision, federal statute or court decision or by a requirement of the federal Recovery Act, or are “essential for preventing loss of life, addressing imminent issues of public safety or avoiding immediate and catastrophic loss of state property.”

The agencies must report whether functions not covered by those requirements, and therefore “non-mandatory,” are required by state statute or a contract such as a labor agreement, necessary to secure federal matching funds, or work that generates money for the state.

The information will be used to help put together next year’s budget proposal, Financial Management Director Victor Moore wrote.

“This information is being requested because it is clear the state will need to focus on the most essential services as the budget is further adjusted to new revenue projections,” he said.

Since the Legislature set the state’s two-year budget last spring, revenue projections have dropped consistently. Arun Raha, the state’s chief economist, told legislators last month that the general fund, which pays for most state services and paychecks, will have $1.2 billion less than estimated in April.

The state goes through budget exercises before each legislative session, and agency representatives were split over whether the Office of Financial Management memo was standard operating procedure.

“This appears to be something different” from the annual budget preparation, DSHS spokesman Thomas Shapley said.

DSHS didn’t get the memo until Wednesday and was given an extension on its report, Shapley said. The department’s projected budget for 2010 is $9.8 billion.

The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction said it won’t be easy to compile the lists.

For example, while the state’s standardized writing assessment for students isn’t mandated federally, it is a state requirement, Superintendent Randy Dorn said. And a three-year contract with the supplier is already in place. Dorn anticipates the result of a lawsuit against the state to fund basic education will help solve some of K-12’s financial shortfalls. That trial is wrapping up this week, and a decision is expected in late January or early February, he said.

Penny Thomas, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Commerce, said that agency is “feverishly working” on its budget numbers. Commerce gets about $103 million for 26 activities and programs.

The Washington State Patrol had almost finished compiling its list Thursday. “We get requests from the governor’s office all the time,” spokesman Bob Calkins said. “This memo isn’t alarming.”