In a decision that shocked and disappointed family-leave advocates around the state, Governor Christine Gregoire announced last week that she was suspending work on the popular paid-family-leave program that passed the state legislature last year.

Citing the need to save money in tough economic times, Gregoire said that she was stopping work on a computer program to administer the family-leave program, which would have guaranteed $250 a week to help parents take care of newborn babies. A spokeswoman says Gregoire "supports the program, but the legislature has failed to find a funding source." The legislature passed family leave without funding in 2007, with the intention of coming up with a funding source this year. Without a funding source, the spokeswoman adds, "We're spending money to administer something that doesn't exist." The program was supposed to start distributing checks in October 2009.

From a budgetary perspective, the move is mostly symbolic. Eliminating the program will save only about $4 million—a miniscule portion of next year's projected $3.2 billion deficit. Gregoire made the announcement at a debate sponsored by the Association of Washington Business—an anti-family-leave organization that subsequently endorsed her opponent, Dino Rossi.

From a policy perspective, however, the cut is significant. Ending work on the computer program throws the future of family leave itself into doubt, because the program is needed to administer the checks. Even if the legislature did approve a funding source next year, postponing the program means it won't be able to start sending checks on schedule.

Marilyn Watkins, acting director of the Economic Opportunity Institute, which pushed for family leave last year, says that although "I understand the desire to show fiscal constraint and find ways to cut spending," paid family leave isn't the place to cut—"particularly in economic times like these, when families really need these kinds of programs to build up their economic security."

Karen Keiser, the primary senate sponsor of last year's family-leave legislation, says she's "very sad and disappointed" at the governor's decision. "[Former Washington Mutual CEO] Kerry Killinger's parachute from leaving WaMu would have paid for family leave for a year. It's all a matter of perspective." Once up and running, the program would have cost between $20 and $30 million a year. recommended