Washington Special Session: One Day, $600 Million Cut

By: - December 13, 2010 12:00 am

Lawmakers in Washington State convened for a one-day special session in Olympia on Saturday (December 11) and, with unusual speed and bipartisan consensus, approved nearly $600 million worth of budget cuts that ordinarily would provoke loud protests and pointed debate.

Among the cuts approved by legislators: nearly $50 million from the Department of Corrections, including the closure of a prison facility; $50 million from K-12 education, including funding intended to keep class sizes small; $51 million from higher education, including at several of the state’s flagship universities; nearly $30 million from a state-subsidized health insurance program for the poor; and the elimination of non-emergency dental care for poor adults.

“The angry clashes that often seen when state programs get axed were replaced with resignation that resistance was futile,” The Seattle Times reported . The resignation was apparent in the vote totals on the primary piece of legislation approved Saturday, which cleared the state House 86 to 6 and won approval in the Senate, 30 to 9.

“I’m very proud of what the Legislature was able to do today and how they did it. I think it’s historic, the bipartisan way in which they stood up to the most challenging time in 80 years,” Democratic Governor Chris Gregoire said, according to The Times . “I’m hoping they have built up a momentum that candidly shows the rest of the country how to get it done.”

Washington lawmakers’ work is far from over, however. The one-day special session tides lawmakers over until January, when the regular legislative session begins, but the state still faces an estimated $1.1 billion budget hole that was only partially addressed by Saturday’s cuts.

Complicating matters, the latest budget maneuvers include tricks such as counting on increased tax revenues that could appear overly rosy in hindsight. Washington’s tax revenues have struggled to keep up with expectations, and voters in November rejected a proposed income tax on wealthy earners as a way to raise more money.

“If the revenue forecasts don’t get a whole lot better quickly, come early next year the Legislature will have to cut even deeper,” SeattlePI.com noted . “This half billion was relatively easy. The next half billion won’t be.”

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