Washingtonians are going to die because of the $700 million that legislators hacked out of the state budget in a special session on Saturday—at least, that's what people say—and it's only going to get worse in January, when the legislature convenes to cut more than five times that amount from state departments and services.
For the moment, the legislature's struggling just to deal with the $1.1 billion shortfall that needs to be resolved by July, when the current two-year budget cycle ends. Hence the $700 million in cuts this weekend that target educational institutions, services to disadvantaged families, and, in just one example of how far lawmakers are going with these cuts, money to give basic dental care to needy adults. (That leaves over $300,000 in cuts that still need to be made before July in order to get the current budget in line.)
But what's going to hurt most is when they 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?
Well, look at this way: Over the last five years we've already 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.
And on that cheery note, a little tour of some things that disappeared during Saturday's $700 million budget-cutting bonanza:
Higher education: Legislators cut $11.4 million from the University of Washington's budget; $7.5 million from WSU; $1.5 million from Eastern; $1.4 million from Central; $2 million from Western; $777,000 from Evergreen; and $26 million from the state's community and technical colleges.
Department of Corrections: Legislators closed McNeil Island, 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; reduced the number of state workers treating chemical dependency, saving $564,000; and reduced foster home maintenance, saving $854,000.
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 in Olympia try to figure out how to get us through July of 2013—without raising taxes, as the voters demanded, while at the same time cutting $4.6 billion more from the budget—that's when it's really going to hurt.
This week Governor Gregoire's rolling out her proposals for how to deal with that $4.6 shortfall. Her first ideas, out today: Cut benefits to state employees by ending automatic pay increases (saving $368 million over the next two years), discouraging early retirement (saving $2.2 billion over the next 25 years), and holding health care inflation low (saving $26 billion over the next 10 years) by promoting the use of generic drugs, consolidating the state's health care purchasing, and moving toward a system that pays based on outcomes rather than the number of office visits.
“The proposals I’ve developed will make a significant difference in the budget shortfall we face today,” Gregoire said in a statement. “Just as importantly, they will free the state to make better use of its resources for years to come.”