Everyone expects next week’s quarterly forecast of state revenue to be bad. Gov. Chris Gregoire says she is girding for a drop in revenue as deep as $1.5 billion — and some are predicting even worse numbers. Gregoire has asked agencies to identify $1.7 billion in cuts, or 10 percent of their budgets.
But for Gregoire to make the cuts herself without the help of the Legislature, she would have to take an equal bite out of every state agency — and she said Wednesday such across-the-board cuts aren’t possible any more.
“I can’t do across-the-boards. I’ve made that clear to legislative leadership,” she told me after a meeting of the state Finance Committee. “That’s a dry well right now.”
The Democratic governor said her Department of Corrections can’t afford to make any more cuts without making the public less safe.
In previous rounds of legislative budget-cutting — and in Gregoire’s 6 percent across-the-board cuts last year — the state closed three prisons, cut more than 1,200 Corrections jobs and ended supervision of more than 10,000 offenders released from confinement.
Those offenders were deemed to be at low or moderate risk to reoffend. More cuts to Corrections would require the Legislature to approve the release of high-risk offenders, agency spokesman Chad Lewis said — either that, or early release of inmates, an idea lawmakers rejected this winter. Lewis said the agency can’t close any more prisons without releasing inmates or overcrowding the rest of the facilities.
Gregoire stopped short of saying she would call lawmakers back in for a special session this fall.
That decision depends on whether the bulk of the predicted drop in revenue is coming this fiscal year or next, she said. If the worst of it is in the 2012-2013 year, lawmakers might be able to wait until their scheduled return next January to bridge the gap.
So Gregoire, like the rest of us, will wait to see what state economist Arun Raha reports Sept. 15.