Gregoire: We need new budget before Xmas

Governor calls special session, asks for $2 billion plan



OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire will be asking for budget-cutting authority and $2 billion in spending reductions from legislators called to the 30-day special session beginning Nov. 28.

“We need to get a budget done well before Christmas and we need to get it done in one special session,” Gregoire said Thursday. “I want to commence implementation Jan. 1, because you delay a day and the toll gets bigger.”

The Nov. 28 date was chosen to closely follow the Nov. 17 revenue forecast, which Arun Raha, Washington’s chief economist, says is four times more likely to be negative than not.

For the third time, Gregoire will also suggest the Legislature give her discretion to make targeted cuts. While giving the governor full budget authority is unconstitutional, she believes it would be constitutional for the Legislature to submit a list of priorities with their proposed budget and allow the governor to cut based on those priorities in the case of a future negative forecast.

At an Olympia press conference, the governor said she will submit a plan to the Legislature in October to use as a road map, outlining the choices that must be made, including reductions in social services, public safety, health care and education. She warned that the cuts would not be minimal.

“We cannot take a Pac-Man approach to our budget. We can’t just keep taking little bites out of every program…. We are beyond that now, where we’re going to have to admit there are things as a state that we can no longer do,” Gregoire said.

Ten percent cuts Gregoire asked agencies to submit were due Thursday. However the governor said across-the-board cuts will not happen.

“Even if I could do across the board at 10 percent, it’s less than $1.7 (billion),” Gregoire said. “We’ve got to open up everything to a cut. Any one of them can be cut more than 10 percent or even eliminated … everything is on the table.”

The four major pieces of the budget: social services, health care, education, and corrections, will most likely all receive cuts.

“I’ve warned them that one of the places they will have to go, and probably go significantly, is the area of health care,” Gregoire said.

There has been discussion about whether the state will provide assistance with prescription medication or any dental services.

The governor is asking lawmakers to cut $2 billion from the baseline of $8.7 billion; a 23 percent cut in the baseline for the state.

“We need to cut $2 billion, not just the $1.4 (billion) budget hole that came in the last forecast. That would leave us with no reserves at all, and unfortunately, it doesn’t look like we can rest on that,” Gregoire said.

Republican lawmakers have insisted that tax increases are not an option and a citizen initiative requiring a two-thirds majority to approve tax increases is an impediment to that option. Democrats have considered repealing tax breaks to raise revenues, although Gregoire said closing tax loopholes would not be the solution.

“Somebody will have to show me $2 billion in tax loopholes that I can get passed in the Legislature. Frankly, somebody will have to show me $2 million that I can get passed,” Gregoire said.

Gregoire aims to get a supplemental budget done soon in order to start focusing on policy issues and getting people back to work, which will be the focus of the 2012 session.