October 28, 2011 in City

‘Dreadful’ budget cuts loom

Gregoire’s tentative list of cuts totals $2 billion
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Associated Press photo

Gov. Chris Gregoire talks about her budget-cutting ideas on Thursday in Olympia.
(Full-size photo)

OLYMPIA – Gov. Chris Gregoire released a list Thursday of possible choices to slash $2 billion from the state budget, more than a fourth of that total from public schools and state colleges and another $380 million from social services programs.

She described the options – tentatively selected from a list of nearly $4 billion in cuts the Legislature could make – as “dreadful.”

“What I’m laying out here really hurts,” she said. “Washingtonians will get a lot less of what they truly need.”

But after cutting some $10.5 billion in projected expenses over the last three years, it’s necessary to cut whole programs, she said: “I’m done with the Pac-Man budgeting approach.”

Liberal groups, which are calling for the state to end some tax exemptions for businesses to cover at least some of the gap between projected revenues and scheduled expenses, quickly denounced an “all-cuts” approach.

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, said 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.

Gregoire said she has not yet looked at higher taxes or fees 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 have none to propose now.

She’ll make a final supplemental budget plan after the next state revenue forecast, which will be released Nov. 17, but before the special session starts Nov. 28. She wanted legislators to see a list of options, totaling $4 billion worth of possible cuts, and marked the ones she expects to place in her supplemental budget.

Among her tentative choices:

• Social service programs 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 nearly $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, to 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.

The levy equalization cuts would vary among the school districts, depending on their property tax rates. Spokane Public Schools would lose $6.6 million next year under the proposal; Central Valley would lose $4.3 million, East Valley about $950,000 and West Valley about $821,000.

• 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 list of preferred options includes cuts to the state share of its employees’ health care coverage, which must still be negotiated with its unions. On 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 give up some of their tax exemptions.

“I hope they will reconsider and come to the table,” Gregoire said of the unions, adding she has no authority to collectively bargain with businesses.

Legislators acknowledged that Gregoire had made some difficult, albeit preliminary, choices that they want to study.

“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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