Lawmakers face familiar choices as Legislature girds for budget cuts

January 10, 2012

By Staff

Local lawmakers returned to Olympia — and a familiar problem — as the Legislature reconvened Jan. 9, less than a month after a budget-cutting special session.

The sluggish economy means lower-than-expected revenues — and a $1.4 billion hole in the 2011-13 budget lawmakers crafted last year. The budget gap could reach $2 billion if lawmakers heed Gov. Chris Gregoire’s call to preserve state reserve dollars.

Legislators chipped almost $480 million from the total in December by cutting budgets at the state education agency — the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction — and the Department of Ecology. Officials also delayed payments to counties and school districts.

“All the easy stuff — if there was any easy stuff in the first place — has already been done,” said Rep. Larry Springer, a 45th Legislative District Democrat. “We’re cutting services that people are going to notice and miss.”

Local lawmakers — Springer’s district includes part of Sammamish — said residents could feel the latest cuts more keenly than past efforts to trim state spending.

In November, Gregoire laid out a tight budget. The spending plan included a 17 percent reduction in state funding to state colleges, a shorter kindergarten through 12th grade school year, a 2.2 percent cut to teacher salaries and early releases for some state prisoners.

The governor also proposed asking voters to approve a half-cent sales tax increase to net about $500 million a year and “buy back” some cuts made in leaner times. If approved, the tax is meant to expire in 2015.

Republican State Rep. Glenn Anderson said the state needs to do more housecleaning and do more to produce private sector job growth before asking recession-weary voters to pay more.

“We should have gone through these sorts of reforms years ago,” he said. “The idea of going to the public and asking for more money without the government making more sacrifices of our own is ridiculous … We have to act like adults and sometimes that means making really tough decisions that piss a lot of people off.”

Anderson represents Issaquah, Sammamish and other Eastside communities in the 5th Legislative District.

The longtime lawmaker and candidate for lieutenant governor suggested merging the ports of Everett, Seattle and Tacoma into a single port authority and negotiating a revenue-sharing agreement with the American Indian tribes for gambling revenue.

In December, State Sen. Cheryl Pflug, another 5th District Republican, suggested a similar proposal for gambling dollars and said state government needs to “put some sacred cows on a diet” to rein in spending.

State Rep. Roger Goodman, a 45th District Democrat, said the recent cuts have already put social services and higher education in a “desperate situation.”

Though raising more dollars for the state is a must, Goodman said he prefers to look elsewhere before raising the state sales tax — already among the highest in the nation.

“Washington has got the second-most regressive tax system in the country, no matter how progressive we say we are,” he said.

Goodman and Springer suggested eliminating decades-old corporate tax breaks and switching the state business-and-occupation tax to be a tax on a business’s profit rather than on gross receipts.

Though Springer said dollars could be saved through department mergers and reforms, programs on the chopping block include human services for poor and elderly residents.

“Somebody in Sammamish whose 92-year-old father is still living at home because of Meals on Wheels brings him his meals and he gets a ride to a community health clinic for his medical treatment — when that ends, people are going to notice,” he said.

Caleb Heeringa: 392-6434. ext. 247, or Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or Comment at

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