OLYMPIA – The Washington legislature may spend the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas playing Scrooge to state agencies and programs.
That’s when they’ll be called into a special session to cut some $2 billion from the state’s budget because revenue is down and is expected to drop further. Gov. Chris Gregoire set the special session to begin Nov. 28, and by law it can last 30 days. Legislative leaders and the top budget writers will go over plans with the governor’s staff in the next two months to prepare for the session.
Some whole programs likely will disappear from the state budget, Gregoire said: “We can’t just keep taking little bites out of programs. There are things we simply can’t afford to do.”
She didn’t single out any, but repeated her mantra that “everything is on the table” for cuts. The governor said she wasn’t proposing tax increases, at least not now. And she dismissed suggestions the state could cover the projected shortfall by closing tax preferences to various businesses, contending that would cost the state jobs those preferences are designed to generate.
“Somebody will have to show me $2 billion I can get passed in the Legislature,” she said. “Frankly, somebody will have to show me $2 million.”
The $2 billion figure represents more than the $1.4 billion gap between expected state revenues and projected state expenses the state’s chief economist, Arun Raha, forecast last week. It anticipates a further erosion in revenues in the Nov. 17 forecast, and calls for the state to have some money left in the general fund on July 1, 2013, when it starts the next fiscal biennium.
Legislators of both parties supported the call for a special session, as did the leading Republican and Democrat in the race to replace Gregoire in the November 2012 election. Republicans generally agreed that the gap should be closed by budget cuts, while some Democrats said the Legislature and the governor, who is a member of their party, should at least consider raising taxes or ending exemptions.
U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, the likely Democratic nominee, said the first priority should be avoiding additional cuts to education because that’s “the key to job growth in this state.” Attorney General Rob McKenna, the likely Republican nominee, called for a “speedy and bipartisan solution” to the budget problems.
State Rep. Kevin Parker, R-Spokane, said the special session should be used to make real reforms: “Our budget is unsustainable and the time for meaningful government reform is at hand so we can get Spokane and Washington working again.”
State Rep. Timm Ormsby, D-Spokane, said it was time to start thinking of the problem as more than just numbers on paper, and consider the effects of a global economic crisis on families in the state. “We must be willing to at least consider the necessity of limited, targeted revenue increases to help sustain our state while we engineer a real recovery.”