Thursday, September 24, 2020
Sept. 24, 2020

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Zarelli unveils plan for big cuts

State Senate's Republican Caucus proposes $850M in reductions to budget

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State Sen. Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, unveiled a list of $850 million in proposed state budget cuts Wednesday — and promised more to come — to help the state plug an immediate budget hole while protecting the state’s most vulnerable citizens.

The list, prepared by the Senate Republican Caucus, was delivered to Gov. Chris Gregoire late Monday in response to a request for ideas that she issued to all four legislative caucuses on Nov. 18. The Senate GOP is the only caucus that has responded to the request so far.

“We share common ground with the governor in many areas, but we also offer additional ideas that span state government — whether it’s redirecting revenue streams to the general fund, prioritizing services for citizens, more substantial welfare reforms, a completely separate list related to K-12 education, or eliminating numerous functions and programs in general government,” Zarelli said in a statement.

The governor is asking the Legislature’s help in identifying quick-turnaround cost-saving measures to deal with an unexpected $385 million revenue shortfall in the budget through June 30, 2011, as well as more structural changes to deal with a projected $5.7 billion deficit in the 2011-13 budget cycle.

“The ongoing savings represented by our list exceed what the governor has proposed once you subtract her $367 million worth of fund transfers and accounting gimmicks, as those don’t amount to savings going forward,” Zarelli said. “The Senate Republican list also reflects our commitment to protecting the most vulnerable in society, by choosing not to accept proposed cuts to prescription drugs for senior citizens, cuts to services for the mentally ill, or service-hour reductions to the developmentally disabled.”

The list includes several ideas the governor herself has proposed, including elimination of “Disability Lifeline” cash payments to disabled, unemployable adults, for a savings of $55.6 million by June 30. If approved by the Legislature, that cut likely would not take effect until March 1.

Senate Republicans also propose removing undocumented noncitizens from the rolls of the Basic Health Plan, the state’s health care safety net for the poor, for a savings of $8.5 million by June 30. Noncitizens make up about 17 percent of the program’s enrollees.

However, the GOP caucus does not concur with the governor’s proposal to defund the Basic Health Plan altogether.

The caucus also proposes ending welfare benefits for “undocumented parents,” food assistance for illegal immigrants, naturalization services, state-paid medical interpreters, and child care subsidies to agricultural workers. It proposes defunding all-day kindergarten in the first six months of 2011, setting a five-year time limit on funding bilingual education for individual students, and eliminating funding for bilingual education for students who successfully pass state academic competency tests.

It also recommends suspending the $100 million the state is slated to spend in the next biennium on salary bonuses for teachers who achieve national board certification. The program had been a key part of Gregoire’s education reform agenda.

Republicans recommend redirecting several sources of revenue to the general fund in 2011-13, including $10 million in tobacco settlement revenue; $9.9 million in filing fee revenue currently dedicated to programs for the homeless; $11 million in anti-smoking programs; and $208 million in unanticipated federal education revenue appropriated by Congress in its recent “Ed-Jobs” bill to support teacher salaries.

The caucus assumes the state’s negotiations with higher education employees will yield 2.5 percent in across-the-board salary reductions, for a savings of $46.3 million, and that the governor’s cuts in the Department of Corrections budget will produce $55.4 million in savings.

It proposes maintaining the historic school levy equalization rate of 12 percent rather than moving to a 14 percent rate as approved by the 2010 Legislature. That would save an estimated $21 million in 2011-13.

The GOP budget would eliminate the Office of Civil Legal Aid and the Office of Public Defense.

But it rejects a controversial proposal to eliminate so-called “discretionary” Medicaid programs that pay for retail prescription drugs, dental, hearing, vision and podiatry services, personal care and family respite care.

“Not all suggestions will be palatable to each of the ‘five corners’ of our lawmaking process,” Zarelli said. “There are items dear to each group — for instance, the reduction of levy equalization funding back down to 12 percent is a tough sell in my caucus; the Life Sciences Discovery Fund is the governor’s creation; and (the Disability Lifeline program) has been a priority for Speaker (Frank) Chopp. But we have a task before us that requires prompt, decisive action. “

Kathie Durbin: 360-735-4523 or kathie.durbin@columbian.com.

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