OLYMPIA – Gov. Chris Gregoire signed most of a short-term spending plan Friday designed to keep Washington from slipping into red ink by June 30, using her veto pen for several sections that added back $6.4 million of spending.
Overall, it cuts about $236 million in spending and moves another $125 million into the general operating fund from other government accounts. But the state still faces about $220 million in red ink that could force further cuts and accounting maneuvers in the next month after the next revenue forecast is presented.
Gregoire said she liked the legislative spending plan better than the budget she proposed in December, because it saves several social programs she would have eliminated and cuts less from education. But those may be temporary reprieves, she warned.
“I don’t want to suggest it will necessarily last for the next biennium,” Gregoire said.
The second set of budget reductions in three months orders retroactive cuts to the state’s school districts, demanding back money the schools expected to help pay for smaller class sizes in grades K-4.
It reduces the number of people eligible for the state-sponsored Basic Health insurance plan, and Apple Health for Kids, the state’s children’s health plan. It cuts the amount of cash grants to disabled residents on the Disability Lifeline.
The bill was a compromise hammered out in recent days and passed first with a bipartisan majority in the Senate. It moved to the House where Democrats said it was an imperfect but necessary agreement.
“There’s certainly something in this budget for everyone to hate,” said Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington. But it lives up to the state’s commitment to education and protects its most vulnerable residents, he contended.
Republicans argued it cuts into education – some $25 million in state funding school districts were counting on to pay for smaller K-4 class sizes through the end of the school year is being withdrawn – while continuing social programs that aren’t working.
“This budget is living in the past,” said Rep. Kevin Parker, R-Spokane. “It lacks the substantive reforms needed to move into the future.”
Among Gregoire’s line-item vetoes was a 3 percent pay cut starting April 1 for nonunion state employees. State workers with union contracts face a similar reduction starting July 1, although for unions it’s not a straight pay cut but an agreement to work about 5 hours less per month, with a corresponding drop in pay. The union agreement also spares those who make less than $30,000 a year from the cut, something the Legislature didn’t do for nonunion employees.
“As the state’s CEO, I have to treat my employees equally,” she said.