Monday, November 21, 2011

Legislators wary of Gregoire's budget proposal

Posted on Mon, Nov 21, 2011 at 5:21 PM

Now that Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire has unveiled her supplemental budget proposal, two things are apparent: Few lawmakers like it, and it's unclear if anyone will pay it any attention.

"The governor's budget [this] year was not considered a starting point for any further discussion," Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, says in reflecting on the legislative session earlier this year. 

Gregoire has proposed cutting $2 billion across the board to remedy a $1.4 billion shortfall in the budget. She has also proposed a voter referendum to raise sales tax by half a cent, as well as a number of other measure to raise revenue. The sales tax increase would expire in 2015.

Lawmakers are expected back in Olympia next Monday to figure out what to cut. 

Baumgartner says he supports a leaner state government, including tort reform and cuts in departmental budgets, but he says he's leery of the governor's proposals to ax student-aid money and shorten the school year. 

"To immediately put forward sort of a draconian plan if we're going to sort of balance this on the backs of school education, it's just not the way to do it," Baumgartner says. 

Rep. Timm Ormsby, D-Spokane, likened the cuts to a life-or-death situation.

"It's like saying if you ran into a burning building, which one of your children would you save," Ormsby says. He predicts the special session, which starts next Monday, would be a "grinding process," from which would emerge a budget that would take a particularly heavy toll on social services.

Mike Padden, the newly elected Spokane Valley senator, says he would stick to his oath against raising taxes once he assumes office. He says it would be premature to approve a sales-tax increase, pointing to a recent state auditor's report saying the state wasted $500,000 on cellphones.

"I'm extremely skeptical," Padden says. "I haven't seen so many taxes that actually end when people say [they] will end." 

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