Washingtonians are literally going to die because of the $700 million that legislators hacked out of the state budget in a special session on December 11. At least that's what advocates for the poor and downtrodden say.
"Will people die?" asked Rebecca Kavoussi of the Community Health Network of Washington after legislators finished slashing funds for educational institutions, disadvantaged families, and the disabled.
This, by the way, is just the beginning.
The $700 million cut was part of the legislature's attempt to deal with a $1.1 billion shortfall that needs to be resolved by July, when the state's current two-year budget cycle ends. But in January, when the legislature convenes during regular session, the hurt will compound as lawmakers take up the next two-year budget. The shortfall that's projected for the next two years: $4.6 billion.
Just how bad is that?
Look at it this way: Over the last five years, we've cut $5.1 billion from Washington's budget. We're about to cut $1.1 billion more before July, and then, over the next two years, another $4.6 billion.
Or, just look at it this way: If things feel really bad now, they're about to get twice as really bad. More education cuts. More health-care cuts. The disappearance of programs few think should disappear.
Glenn Kuper, spokesperson for the state's Office of Financial Management, says that because of depressed revenues, the budget will reflect the worst of the recession well into the future, even though some are predicting a modest recovery soon. "We're likely to keep bouncing along the bottom," Kuper says, "for at least the next two-year budget."
A quick look at the state's main sources of revenue explains why. Our regressive sales tax makes up 52 percent of state revenue, so when people buy less, the state's balance sheets go into free fall fast. Other major sources of state income: business taxes, which shrink when businesses are closing right and left; property taxes, which drop when property values are falling; and the real-estate excise tax, which isn't much good when no one's buying and selling real estate.
On that cheery note, here's what disappeared during that budget-cutting bonanza on December 11:
Higher education: Legislators cut $11.4 million from the University of Washington's budget, $7.5 million from Washington State University, $2 million from Western Washington University, $777,000 from the Evergreen State College, and $26 million from the state's community and technical colleges.
Department of Corrections: Legislators closed McNeil Island Corrections Center, saving $3.3 million; cut the number of corrections workers, saving $13 million; and reduced electronic home monitoring, saving $879,000.
Children and Family Services: Legislators reduced foster-parent recruitment, saving $176,000, and reduced the number of state workers treating chemical dependency, saving $564,000.
Disability Lifeline: Legislators cut this program for the disabled by $12 million, reflecting a 21 percent decrease in the amount that will be put in monthly checks to people on the lifeline. The checks were $339. They'll now be $268.
Plus: more furloughs and hiring freezes across all state departments!
And remember: That's just to help get us through July of 2011. In January, when the people down in Olympia try to figure out how to get us through July of 2013, these cuts will look like little scrapes.
(P.S. Tens of millions of dollars are set to be pulled from state mental-health funding in January. Go here for the scary details.)