Gregoire's budget whacks schools, social services

Gov. Chris Gregoire on Wednesday announced her plan for the 2011-13 budget that bridges a $4.6 billion gap and will slash money for schools, social services and lead to the loss of 1,800 state jobs.

"I hate my budget," an emotional Gregoire said at a press conference. "In some places, I don't even think it's moral. I never thought I'd be in this situation."

Gregoire's proposal serves as the starting point for the Legislature to begin the budgeting process.

Gregoire's plan breaks down into three pieces. She plans to make $3 billion in budget cuts, which range from cutting ferry services, ending the Basic Health Plan, cutting off funding for state parks, closing the state History Museum in Tacoma and significant funding losses to higher education.

Another $1.1 billion will come from the suspension of two education-related initiatives passed in 2000. The final $700 million will be achieved through fund transfers.

More than 60 percent of the state budget is protected by federal mandate, including the majority of K-12 funding, so the governor chose her $4.6 billion in cuts out of an available $14 billion.

In the education sector, the biggest savings will come from the suspension of Initiatives 728 and 732. Initiative 728, passed in 2000, ensures smaller class sizes and extra opportunities for out-of-class learning ($860 million). Initiative 732 guaranteed raises for teachers and other K-12 employees.

The state also plans to save $216 million by eliminating smaller class sizes in K-4.

"These are real people losing jobs," Gregoire said. "When you cut K-4 class size you lose teachers. Their jobs are on the block."

Many social services that serve poor and at-risk residents are on the block in Gregoire's proposal as well.

The biggest hit to social services comes in the loss of subsidized insurance benefits for 66,000 residents under the Basic Health Plan. Dropping this program would save $230 million but leave these residents without health insurance options.

Gregoire also proposes to save $180 million by eliminating the Disability Lifeline grants to temporarily disabled persons who can’t work, which covers some 28,000 people each month. Another $147 million could come from eliminating the Disability Lifeline Medical Program which covers about 21,000 people each year.

Gregoire announced her proposal with the knowledge that these services are more in demand as ever. She urged the communities to help each other in the place of a depleted state government.

"We're going to get through this, and we're going to be better and stronger for it because the communities are going to have to step up, and I know they will."

Gov. Gregoire's 2011-13 budget proposal -

Nat Levy can be reached at 425-453-4290.

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