Gregoire plans major budget cuts, blasts Wall Street


by Associated Press

Posted on October 27, 2011 at 12:23 PM

Updated Thursday, Oct 27 at 6:28 PM

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Gov. Chris Gregoire has proposed eliminating the state's health care program for the poor, trimming another 15 percent from higher education and reducing levy equalization for poor school districts by 50 percent to fill a $2 billion budget shortfall.

"This is very personal. We're talking about real Washingtonians," Gregoire said at a news conference Thursday in Olympia. "They have needs we will no longer be able to meet."

The governor struck a populist stance in laying out her proposed budget, largely blaming the state's financial problems on Wall Street.

"These choices were made out of necessity due to a drop in consumer confidence brought on by actions on Wall Street, inaction by Congress and the European debt crisis. The list of options I've presented hurts," she said. "This is not what I signed up for when I started as a caseworker 40 years ago. But it's what the world economy handed our state and our country."

The proposed budget cuts also include reducing the length of supervision for all convicts and ending alcohol and drug abuse treatment programs.

The governor said she's laying out options now to give lawmakers a jump start when they walk in the door Nov. 28 for a special session of the Legislature. Earlier this year, the Legislature cut about $4.6 billion of state spending.

Gregoire said she'll release her final supplemental budget proposal after a Nov. 17 revenue forecast. Earlier this year the state's chief economist said tax revenues will continue to drop.

Gregoire said lawmakers have talked to her about raising revenue, but they'll first have to deal with the budget cuts.

"This is a beginning," Gregoire said. "I expect additional feedback from communities and various stakeholder groups that I will certainly consider before I present a more complete budget next month. This list will likely change before then. But not much -- our options are limited. We've already cut $10 billion from state government over the last three years, which leaves very few options moving forward."

The reductions include eliminating the Basic Health plan, which provides medical care for the state's poor. The cut would affect 35,000 people.
Gregoire also wants to cut off medical services to 21,000 people in the state's Disability Lifeline program, which serves low-income adults, and the state alcohol and drug abuse program.

She also wants to cut the length of supervision for all offenders leaving prison. Sex offenders will be supervised for 24 months and all other offenders, for 12 months, her office said.

Gregoire said one of the cuts she's most worried about is a reduction in services to the mentally ill.

"They're not going to be just fine," she said.

She also said she's very concerned about the long-term consequences of cuts to higher education.

"I don't want anyone to think that I like these options," Gregoire said. "This is what Wall Street has done to our state, to our country."