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Washington budget director urges state cuts

Doubts about action on budget prompt email from OFM’s Brown: ‘time is of the essence’

OLYMPIA – Washington state can’t wait until next year to cut its budget, the state’s budget director told legislators Monday.

In the wake of recent comments by legislators that cast doubt on the prospects for significant budget revisions in this month’s special legislative session, Office of Financial Management Director Marty Brown said the state currently spends $41 million per day.

“Every day that goes by, we can’t get that money back,” Brown wrote in an email to legislators that was also sent to reporters.

State agencies will need time to make any changes in policies and programs the Legislature orders, and notify clients and providers all over the state, he added: “Faced with all this, I do want to say that time is of the essence.”

The special session began Nov. 28 at the request of Gov. Chris Gregoire after economic projections in November said the state was on track to spend about $1.4 billion more on programs, policies and salaries than it will collect in taxes and fees through June 30, 2013, the end of the two-year fiscal period.

On Nov. 17, Gregoire proposed some $2 billion in cuts to state programs and departments to cover the gap and create a financial cushion. She urged the Legislature to pass that amount in a supplemental budget then ask voters to approve a half-cent sales tax for the next three years to “buy back” about $500 million worth of programs.

Since the 30-day special session began, however, neither house has exhibited a sense of urgency about the budget. Although each chamber’s budget-writing Ways and Means Committee has held hearings on the governor’s proposal – with more scheduled this week – neither chamber took a floor vote on a substantive issue until Monday afternoon when the House passed legislation for an emergency bailout that was originally requested by Dec. 1.

At a House Ways and Means Committee hearing on Friday afternoon, however, a senior Republican member openly doubted that any budget action would occur before next year.

Rep. Bill Hinkle, R-Cle Elum, asked if anyone in the room thought the Legislature “would vote the governor’s budget out by the end of special session … I don’t think it’s going to happen. Are we really going to do that?”

Committee Chairman Ross Hunter, D-Medina, replied that was a question “the chair is unable to answer.”

Hinkle asked for a show of hands for those who thought the Legislature would vote on the governor’s budget. Hunter didn’t allow that vote to proceed, and began taking testimony on a bill to reduce the state’s payments to rural hospitals.

In his email to legislators, Brown warned against waiting until next year’s regular session, which starts on Jan. 9 and runs for 60 days.

“Many of the savings assumptions in the Governor’s proposals are based upon January implementation dates. If we go to February or later our assumed savings drop and other more difficult decisions need to be made,” he wrote.

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