Gov. Chris Gregoire visited with the editorial board today. She wanted to talk about her proposed budget that addresses a $4.6 billion shortfall. In addition to consolidating several state agencies, it makes drastic cuts in education, low-income health care, social services, public safety and state workers’ compensation. In Pierce County, she would shutter the McNeil Island prison and the Washington History Museum. Funding for state parks, the arts commission – gone.
“It’s not a budget I’m proud of. But it’s what the times call for,” she said, noting that it eliminates 80 programs and agencies. She expects legislators will come back in January thinking they’ll be able to save this program or that agency that is important to them or their constituents, but it’s unlikely they’ll be able to.
“They’ll come in with that intention. I would, too. But then they’ll see the stark reality,” she said. Her proposal may be slightly tweaked here and there, but she expects that it ultimately will be the “framework” for the final budget.
She’s fully aware that many of her cuts will have dire consequences, such as more people going to emergency rooms if the Basic Health Plan is eliminated for 60,000 low-income subscribers. She fears that failing to provide early childhood education will eventually manifest in higher crime rates. And she knows her budget means that about 10,000 state workers and teachers will have lost their jobs between 2008 and 2012.
She feels state workers have had to make more sacrifices than other public-sector workers at the local and, particularly, the federal level where, she said, “they’re getting COLAs, bonuses and no raises in health care (premiums).” The hits state workers are taking – in layoffs, furloughs, pay cuts and benefits cost increases – add up, she said. “I have a demoralized work force.”
When I commented that she seemed a little demoralized herself, she paused and said, “I’m not. I am determined. I will see us through this. But I don’t like what I’ve done.”