Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The first step to fixing the $5.7 billion budget problem

The $5.7 billion budget hole announced last week is what you'll hear lawmakers describe as a "three-year problem" - finding a way to balance the books for the remainder of this year, and then drafting a balanced budget for the next two years.

The first (and most urgent) step is cutting an additional $385 million from this year's budget which ends in June 2011. After September's revenue forecast, Governor Gregoire trimmed $520 million using across-the-board cuts, but last week's forecast necessitates yet another round of reductions.

When the Governor learned of the new shortfall, she asked leaders from all four corners of the Legislature (the Republican and Democratic caucuses in the House and Senate) to provide a list of ideas by November 29. Yesterday, she revealed her list which includes:
  • Delay financial aid funding to 2012 for State Need college grants ($76 million)
  • Eliminate the Basic Health Program on Feb. 1 ($33.7 million)
  • Eliminate state funding for more resources for grades K-4 on Sept. 1 ($81.5 million)
  • Reduce levy equalization property-poor school districts by 6.3 percent ($18 million)
  • Eliminate the state-only food assistance program on Feb. 1 ($9.6 million)
  • Eliminate the highly capable student funds for next year ($7 million)
This $300 million+ list doesn't even touch the surface of the kinds of cuts legislators will have to make next session to bridge a $5.7 billion shortfall.

Contrary to popular cliche, this first step won't be the hardest.