Schools, social services take biggest hits
OLYMPIA – Saying the state faces an economic crisis that requires deep cuts and government restructuring, Gov. Chris Gregoire on Wednesday proposed eliminating some state programs for schools and some of the “safety net” for the poor.
Her proposed 2011-’13 budget, the starting point for discussions that will dominate next year’s legislative session, calls for what she described as “devastating” reductions.
“I hate my budget. In some places, I don’t even think it’s moral,” an emotional Gregoire said as she introduced a proposed spending plan that she estimates uses the word “eliminate” about 80 times.
Liberals and some state unions agreed, saying Gregoire was balancing the budget by cutting programs for children and the most vulnerable.
Legislative Republicans called it a good starting point. Her fellow Democrats were more noncommittal, saying only that it starts a process the Legislature will finish.
The proposal would cut some $2.2 billion from public schools, $1.4 billion from Health and Human Service programs, $631 million from state colleges and universities and $143 million from public safety programs.
It would cancel the state presidential preference primary in 2012 to save $10 million. Some state parks would close, some would transfer to local control and the rest would charge fees reflecting the cost of operation.
State workers who care for seniors and the developmentally disabled gathered outside the governor’s office to protest the cuts to key social service programs.
Karen Washington, who works for Chesterfield Services home care in Spokane, said workers who are struggling to make ends meet will have their wages and benefits cut, too. In the end, many patients who are able to remain in their homes or with family because of state services will wind up in more expensive settings like nursing homes and hospitals because of the cuts, she said.
Asking the sick and disabled to shoulder so much of the state’s budget problems “is not only not fair, it’s immoral,” Washington said.
The state teachers union said cuts in education programs will hurt students now and the state in the long run. “We have to plan for the future and that means providing our students with the best schools we possibly can, right now,” Washington Education Association President Mary Lindquist said.
Sen. Joe Zarellli, of Ridgefield, the GOP’s chief budget expert in the Senate, called the budget a step in the right direction and said Republicans will have more cost-saving ideas when the Legislature convenes next month, including changes to the qualifications needed to receive social services, reform of bilingual education and more competition for government services from the private sector.
“The Legislature could do worse by taxpayers than to adopt a budget that is the same general size and shape as this one,” Zarelli said in a prepared statement.