Legislators urged to act quickly on budget

Fiscal chief says state can't wait until next year to make cuts



OLYMPIA — The state can’t wait until next year to make changes to its budget that will reduce spending, the state’s budget director told legislators Monday.

In response to recent comments by legislators that they doubt significant budget revisions will be accomplished in the special session, Office of Financial Management Director Marty Brown said the state currently spends $41 million per day.

“Every day that goes by, we can’t get that money back,” Brown wrote in an e-mail to legislators that was also sent to reporters. “Your state agencies need time to put into effect the policy and budget changes that affect clients and providers all over the state. Faced with all this, I do want to say that time is of the essence.”

Legislators were called into a special session that began Nov. 28 because economic projections show the state is planning to spend about $1.4 billion on programs, policies and salaries than it will take in through June 30, 2013, the end of the two-year fiscal period.

On Nov. 17, Gov. Chris Gregoire proposed some $2 billion in cuts to state programs and departments, urging the Legislature to pass that amount in a supplemental session and ask voters to approve a half-cent sales tax for the next three years to “buy back” about $500 million worth of programs.

Since the special session began, however, neither house has exhibited a sense of urgency about the budget. Although each chamber’s budget-writing Ways and Means committees have held hearings on the governor’s proposal — and have more scheduled this week — neither chamber has taken a floor vote on a substantive bill.

Actual floor activity has been minimal.

The special session can run a maximum of 30 days, which would be Dec. 28, although Gregoire has said she hopes legislators can agree on budget revisions before Christmas.

At a House Ways and Means Committee hearing on Friday afternoon, however, a senior Republican member openly doubted that any budget action would occur before next year.

Rep. Bill Hinkle, R-Cle Elum, asked if anyone in the room thought the Legislature “would vote the governor’s budget out by the end of special session … I don’t think it’s going to happen. Are we really going to do that?”

Committee Chairman Ross Hunter, D-Medina, replied that was a question “the chair is unable to answer.”

Hinkle asked for a show of hands for those who thought the Legislature would vote on the governor’s budget. Hunter didn’t allow that vote to proceed.

In his e-mail to legislators, Brown warned against waiting until next year’s regular session, which starts on Jan. 9 and runs for 60 days.

“Many of the savings assumptions in the governor’s proposals are based upon January implementation dates. If we go to February or later, our assumed savings drop and other more difficult decisions need to be made,” he wrote. “I intended to make some of these points in my testimony earlier this week but circumstances prevented it.”

Brown’s testimony before the Senate Ways and Means Committee was interrupted by protesters who have flocked to the Capitol to urge legislators to avoid some or all of the cuts proposed by Gregoire through the elimination of certain tax exemptions or other tax increases.