Thursday, December 10, 2009

Coming Soon: Virtual Town Halls

Want to learn more about the upcoming legislative session and the budget challenges facing our state but can't make it to Olympia? Well, here's your chance to do so from the comfort of your own home or coffee shop or wi-fi hotspot - pretty much anywhere you sit and stare at a computer screen.

In conjunction with the upcoming tele-town halls for Reps. Brendan Williams and Ross Hunter, we'll be liveblogging the events right here. So follow along, submit questions or comments, and bask in the electric glow of Democracy's future...

Monday, December 14th: Brendan Williams
Watch the replay here

Tuesday, December 15th: Ross Hunter

Or follow along on Twitter:

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Budget balanced, but "unjust"

No more Basic Health. No more maternity services. No more levy equalization. No more prescription drug assistance for low-income seniors. No more GAU.

Those were just a sample of the cuts Gregoire laid out in her press conference that ended just moments ago. In presenting her budget she said, "Let me be very clear: I do not support this budget. As required by law, it is balanced. For me, it is unjust.”

This budget is called "Book I" by insiders, as it is considered the first budget, required to be balanced with no new revenue.

Here's a breakdown of how Gregoire proposes to bridge the $2.6 billion shortfall without new revenue.

Use of $904 million from "other" revenue
- This includes $229 million from the Budget Stabilization Account (Rainy Day Fund), $110 million from the Savings Incentive/Education Savings Accounts (funds agencies didn’t spend in the previous year), $52 million from PEBB Reserve (state health benefits) and lowering the Ending Fund Balance to $310.5 million.

$1.7 billion in program cuts:

- $375 million including the elimination of levy equalization funding, all-day kindergarten, I-728 (classroom size initiative) and K-4 staffing enhancements.

Higher Education
- $370 million including reducing the State Need Grant, across-the-board reductions, and suspending the Work Study program and eliminating other smaller financial aid programs.

Other Education
- $13.8 million including eliminating ECEAP (early learning) for 3- year-olds, eliminating the Career and Wage Ladder, and reducing funding for the Arts Commission.

Health and Human Services
- $850 million including eliminating the Basic Health Plan and the General Assistance program, suspending Maternity Support Services, and reducing Apple Health Eligibility to less than 205% of Federal Poverty.

Natural Resources
- $25 million including eliminating funding for watershed planning, reducing funding for water resource activities, and reducing Fair Funding.

General Government
- $41 million including reductions in growth management grants, state library services, and the Crime Victims Benefits program.

: Decrease state employees by an additional 1,500 FTEs. From Fiscal Year 2009 (last year of the prior biennium) through Fiscal Year 2011 (second year of this biennium), it is anticipated that state FTEs will decrease by 4,500.

Mandatory Spending
: This budget spends an additional $760 million for caseload increases and other mandatory costs like forest fires, increased utilization of medical services, etc.

Additional Spending
: There is about $86.5 million in additional spending in the budget that is not related to mandatory increases. It includes restoring $12 million for Juvenile Rehabilitation, $11.5 million for worker retraining in the community/technical colleges, and $50.7 million for state employee health insurance to address a shortfall in the PEBB funds.

The Governor stated she will introduce another budget in January in which she will "buy back" or restore some of these cuts using increased revenue. This will be her "Book II" budget.

She did not announce which revenue sources she will endorse but expressed that she is very conscious of not wanting any new revenue source to interfere with or slow down our state's economic recovery. When asked for an example of such a source, she cited an increase in the B&O tax.

Gregoire's list of buybacks would cost about $700 million. Her list includes:

  • Basic Health Plan
  • Apple Health for children
  • A scaled-back version of General Assistance (6 month eligibility with $250/month grants)
  • Levy equalization
  • State Need Grant (financial aid for college)
  • ECEAP slots and all-day kindergarten
  • Adult medical, dental, vision and hospice programs
  • Developmental disability and long-term care services
Other Proposals: The Governor will introduce legislation that address a number of areas:
  • Local Government Finance: She would like to give local governments more flexibility in how they use their revenues.
  • Levies: She suggests allowing school districts to raise their levy lids up to 36 percent.
  • Hospitals: She endorses the proposal from the Washington Hospital Association to set up a hospital assessment fee, which allows the state to capture additional federal funding.
  • Juvenile Rehabilitation: None will be closed, however there will be downsizing at Maple Lane, Green Hill and Naselle, with additional community placements instead.
  • Corrections: Several institutions will close – Pine Lodge, Larch and Ahtanum; McNeil will be converted to minimum security; and the stacks at the Walla Walla penitentiary will be closed and rebuilt. Additional beds will be opened at the new prison at Connell, where costs are lower.
  • Developmental Disabilities: Frances Haddon Morgan Center would close in 2011 and Rainier School in 2014.
In addition, the Governor has already laid out proposals to consolidate certain agencies and cut down on the number of state boards and commissions.

You can read the Governor's press release and related budget materials here.

Governor to release all-cuts budget proposal this morning

If you've been paying any attention to state politics over the past several months, you already know that the national recession continues to pummel state budgets across the nation. As typically happens in a recession, revenues shrink while caseloads in state services grow. Here in Washington, the result is a projected $2.6 billion shortfall for the last half of the two-year 2009-2011 budget.

This morning at 9, Governor Gregoire will reveal her budget proposal. As required by law, it will be a balanced budget based on existing revenue. In other words, it will be an all-cuts budget, and it follows on the heels of a
budget that already included about $4 billion in cuts.

Gregoire has
stated plainly that the kinds of cuts required to balance this budget is unacceptable. Her office prepared a "Budget Story" presentation that lays out several examples of what it would take to cut $2.6 billion from the remaining biennial budget.

If we eliminated all mental health and disability services, for example, we'd only save $1.6 billion. Want to eliminate all state-funded environmental clean-up efforts and parks and recreation services? That will save us $364 million. Shut down the Department of Commerce? There's another $103 million. You get the picture - $2.6 billion is a tough number to get to.

Mumblings that programs such as financial aid for college, levy equalization for property-poor school districs, the Basic Health Program and General Assistance Unemployable might be completely eliminated have a lot of folks very, very worried.

Tune in to
TVW to watch Gregoire's press conference. We'll post additional details later today.