Wash. Budget Slices Billions, Pain Spread Around

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      OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - Education, health programs and human
services will share the pain of deep spending cuts under a new
state budget that cuts about $4 billion in state spending through
mid-2011.
      The budget reflects the sour economy, which has torpedoed tax
collections. Lawmakers were working to bridge an expected $9
billion shortfall between revenue and expected spending through
mid-2011.
      As promised, the budget does not count on general tax increases.
But more than half of the budget hole was filled with federal money
and other one-time fixes, such as raids on construction accounts
and skipped pension payments.
      House and Senate negotiators released details of their budget
plan Thursday night, with just three full days left in the
legislative session. They planned to begin debating the budget
Friday.
      The cuts were spread throughout government, with as many as
8,000 government layoffs expected. But education appeared to be a
high priority with lawmakers, along with social service programs
that care for some of the most down-and-out people in society.
      The budget would leave about $830 million in reserves as
insurance against further economic deterioration. House Ways and
Means Chairwoman Kelli Linville, D-Bellingham, said that shows
lawmakers are planning for the future.
      "We know that things could continue to get worse," she said.
      Nearly $800 million would be cut from K-12 education, including
major cuts in two voter-approved initiatives that dedicated money
to hiring more teachers and giving them annual cost-of-living
raises. No teacher raises would be given in the next two budget
years, and the teacher-hiring initiative would be cut by about
two-thirds.
      School districts also will be given more leeway to raise money
under property tax levies.
      The K-12 education cuts, like others in the proposed state
budget, would have been deeper without federal money that officials
used to replace some of their spending cuts.
      Through the current fiscal year and the next two, lawmakers are
counting on some $3 billion in stimulus money and other federal
spending to bail out their budget. Without counting federal help,
the budget spends about $31.4 billion in general state money over
the next two fiscal years.
      Republicans were critical of the budget, saying it relied too
much on one-time money.
      "This is a temporary fix. I really don't believe this is going
to help us sustain for the next two to four years," said Senate
Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla.
      More than 9,000 slots for college students would be eliminated
under the state plan, and tuition would climb - as much as 14
percent per year at four-year universities, and as much as 7
percent per year at community and technical colleges. Financial aid
also is bumped up, by about $50 million, and the State Need Grant
is fully financed.
      After those tuition increases are added, the net spending cuts
are 7 percent at the University of Washington and Washington State
University; 6.5 percent at regional four-year schools; and 6
percent at two-year colleges.
      University of Washington lobbyist Randy Hodgins said the
school's state appropriation had effectively been rolled back 10
years.
      But by raising tuition and helping to bolster financial aid,
which is also getting federal help, the Legislature allowed the UW
to preserve more programs without unduly squeezing most low- and
middle-income students, he said.
      "They did the best that they could to allow us to keep
ourselves together," Hodgins said. "And we all pray for an
economic rebound."
      The Basic Health Program, which gives poor Washingtonians
state-subsidized health care coverage, would be cut by about $255
million. Lawmakers once hoped to make Basic Health savings through
attrition only, but the program's rolls have grown as the economy
cratered, and officials now expect to kick people off the plan.
      A social service program called General Assistance, which gives
cash grants and health care to disabled people, will be scaled back
by about $60 million. Lawmakers avoided deeper cuts, proposed in
Gov. Chris Gregoire's budget plan, and said they plan to more
closely manage people enrolled in the welfare program.
      The proposed budget includes about $250 million in
administrative cuts of general government. State agencies also will
be pushed to cut schedules and use furloughs to save money on
staff.
      Gregoire praised lawmakers on Thursday for working through the
worst deficit in about 25 years. She proposed a similar
no-new-taxes, deep-cuts budget in December.
      "They have struggled mightily," Gregoire said. "It's not a
budget they like, and the folks out there aren't going to like it.
But under the circumstances, I think they've shown a lot of courage
and they stepped up to the challenge."
      ---
      AP Writer Rachel La Corte contributed to this report.
      ---
      On the Net:
      Legislature: http://www.leg.wa.gov
      
      (Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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