February 17, 2011 in News, Region

Deal sets $242 million in immediate state spending cuts

By The Spokesman-Review

Spin Control

Look for regular updates from the Washington Legislature in The Spokesman-Review’s politics blog, Spin Control.

OLYMPIA — A supplemental budget agreement between the House and Senate, which cuts an estimated $242 million in projected state spending between now and June 30, was approved by a special conference committee this morning.

That means it will go to the chambers for an up or down vote, without amendments, in the next few days. Senate Democrats and Republicans and House Democrats signed off on the deal; House Republicans were noticeably absent. Rep. Gary Alexander of Olympia, lead Republican budget writer, said Wednesday it had things they wouldn’t agree to.

The four-page breakdown explains the differences with previous budget plans by Gov. Chris Gregoire, the House and the Senate. Here are some highlights:

It cuts $58.6 million from K-12 education. The largest cuts come from programs that shrunk class sizes in grades K-4 and money given to “safety net adjustment” programs.

Colleges get a $26 million cut, the largest in a plan to shift responsibility for student financial aid.

Health care gets a $47 million cut. The Basic Health plan, which Gregoire had proposed eliminating, survives with lower eligibility levels, but all state funding for Part D Medicare co-payments are eliminated. The children’s health program also remains, but only for families at 200 percent of poverty level or below. Those between 200 percent and 300 percent of poverty level (the current cutoff) can stay in the program if they pay the premiums. The Disability Lifeline continues, but with lower cash grants and housing vouchers. The average Lifeline cash grant would go from $235 to $173.

Long-term care, developmental disability and mental health programs would be cut $70.5 million, with a $19 million cut in payments for personal care and a $12.6 million cut in payments that cover services not covered by Medicaid.

Other human services face cuts totalling $43.5 million in a wide range of programs ranging from food assistance to alcohol and drug addiction programs to refugee employment.

Combined with some $125 million in transfers into the general fund from other accounts, the spending plan would erase $367.4 million in projected red ink. But the projected shortfall is about $600 million, so another supplemental budget — technically a supplemental-supplemental-supplemental, considering a special legislative session passed one supplemental in December and this would be the second in three months — will be necessary at some point.

“Baby steps,” said Sen. Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, a member of the conference committee.

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