October 27, 2011 in City, News

Gregoire proposes service and pay cuts

Gives Legislature list of options
By The Spokesman-Review
Lui Wong photo

An unhappy Washington state Gov. Chris Gregoire addresses the media about her budget cutting ideas to deal with a $2 billion deficit in the state budget on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2011 in Olympia, Wash. Gregoire says about her options are limited. The state has already cut $10 billion from state government over the last three years.
(Full-size photo)

OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire released a list of possible cuts to slash $2 billion from the state budget, more than a fourth of it from public schools and state colleges and another $380 million from social service programs.

The list Gregoire sent to the Legislature, which will convene in a special session Nov. 28, includes more than $4 billion worth of possible cuts. She highlighted the ones she expects to place in her supplemental budget, but acknowledged legislators might make other choices.

Among her choices:

• Social service programs would be cut nearly $381 million, by reducing or eliminating nearly 60 programs, among them subsidized child care, long-term care services, chemical dependency and many economic services.

• Health care services would be cut near $333 million, eliminating Basic Health and cutting some 35,000 low-income people off state subsidized health care, to save $48 million, and the Disability Lifeline medical program, which covers 21,000, and save $110 million.

• Public schools could see a reduction of some $365 million in state funding, including $150 million cut to “levy equalization,” which is designed to assist poorer school districts, and a $137 million cut by increasing class sizes by two students in grades 4 through 12.

• Colleges and universities would see a $174 million cut, all but $8 million of it as a result of reducing state support by 15 percent.

“Obviously there will be layoffs,” she said.

The options are “dreadful,” she added. “Washingtonians will get a lot less of what they truly need.”

The list of preferred options includes cuts to the state share of its employees health care coverage, which must still be negotiated with its unions. Wednesday the executive director of the state’s largest union said they wouldn’t come to the bargaining table until Gregoire brought in state corporations and got them to agree to giving up some of their tax exemptions.

“I hope they will reconsider and come to the table,” Gregoire said of the unions. “I don’t collective bargain with businesses. I collective bargain with my work force.”

The list of alternatives includes only budget cuts. Gregoire said that was because she promised to give the Legislature an “all cuts” budget. She and her staff will consider possible tax or fee increases before the session starts, but had none to suggest now.

“I have not thought about revenue,” she said.

As Gregoire outlined her preferred cuts, a small group of protesters chanted in the hall outside her Capitol office demanding an end to tax breaks for businesses.

Remy Turpin, the executive director of the Washington Budget and Policy Center, a progressive group, called her budget plan a “one-sided, lopsided approach that will do significant damage to the very things that make our state a good place to live, work and do business.”

Mary Lindquist, president of the Washington Education Association called the cuts to public schools and higher education will force layoffs, crowd classrooms and make college too expensive for more families. “Enough is enough,” she said in a prepared statement.

Legislators acknowledged that Gregoire had made some difficult, albeit preliminary, choices.

“We have few good choices left and we must keep all options on the table,” Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said in a joint statement with Ed Murray, D-Seattle, the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.

Sen. Joe Zarelli of Ridgefield, the ranking Republican on the Ways and Means Committee, commended Gregoire for releasing the list of options early. “I agree with the governor when she says government cannot do it all. It will be up to the Legislature to decide what government should and should not be doing, and at what cost to the taxpayers.”

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