Much of Thursday’s state hearing in Spokane aimed at finding solutions to the state’s financial turmoil would do little to balance a two-year state budget that’s expected to be $3 billion out of whack.
Among the requests from the 43 people who testified at the fourth and final in a series of hearings sponsored by the Office of Financial Management: Don’t cut money that pays to educate our youth. Don’t cut jobs of parole officers who keep an eye on violent offenders. Don’t cut money that keeps the elderly in their own homes. Don’t cut budgets that prevent people with disabilities from becoming homeless. Don’t cut park grants. Don’t cut benefits of state workers. Don’t cut programs that help keep mentally ill people stable and out of trouble. Don’t cut money aimed at revitalizing rural communities. Don’t make community college inaccessible by forcing higher tuition. Don’t cut environmental agencies that help keep water safe.
Also, please cut taxes and pay to extend the North Spokane freeway and improve medical education in Spokane.
Despite a mixed message, Marty Brown, Gov. Chris Gregoire’s budget director, said he thinks some of the ideas expressed at the Spokane hearing will be useful.
Asked which ones, he said he needed time to digest the event and read the written comments.
“I think we’ll get some stuff out of it,” he said.
The 350-seat auditorium at Spokane Community College’s Lair Student Center was nearly full.
While many spoke or applauded with passion, the audience was generally polite.
Gregoire did not appear at the hearing.
In a video introduction, she said she “had a long standing commitment that has kept me away.”
About a third of Gregoire’s 36-member Committee on Transforming Washington’s Budget did attend.
The governor said the four hearings, held earlier in Tacoma, Vancouver and Everett, will help her create a two-year budget plan for July 2011 through June 2013 to present to the state Legislature at the end of this year.
“It’s about respecting and really listening to people who have new ideas about how we can do business,” Gregoire said in her video.
Kyla Evans, an Eastern Washington University student, criticized a proposal to cut state grants that help local governments purchase park and wilderness lands. Parks give youth positive activities and help prevent obesity, she said.
“We can pay now,” she said. “Or we can pay later in medical costs and in lives.”
The meeting wasn’t without some ideas that could help balance the budget.
Some state workers represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees said management is bloated and should be trimmed.
Some who testified suggested raising taxes or removing tax exemptions to help with the deficit.
A few called for significant cuts to government.
“What I’m seeing is the government is involved in a lot of things it shouldn’t be a part of it,” said Rick Layton.