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State Budget Crisis
Lawmakers take bite out of $1.1B shortfall in special session
Lawmakers hope they’ve taken a sizeable bite out of the state’s one-point-one billion dollar budget shortfall. The legislature met Saturday in what’s been called an unprecedented December special session. Governor Chris Gregoire demanded the lame-duck meeting saying she couldn’t solve the problem alone.
It took less than eight hours. Washington lawmakers convened a special session, heard a trio of budget-related bills, and then passed them all with bipartisan votes. At a post-session news conference, Governor Chris Gregoire called this level of cooperation on a budget matter historic:
“You can’t tell me you’ve ever seen anything like that. There was trust up there,” says Gregoire.
Majority Democrats and minority Republicans agreed on nearly $600 million in cuts, fund transfers and other budget-balancing efforts. Some of the bigger ticket items include moving $200 million in federal education money into the state’s general fund, closing McNeil Island prison and eliminating money that keeps elementary school class sizes smaller.
Not all lawmakers voted for the changes. State Senator Eric Oemig, a suburban Seattle Democrat, decried what he calls corporate welfare:
“Today what this bill does: it’s going to cut welfare for kids, families who can’t afford insurance, it’s going to cut school funding and it’s not asking anyone else to sacrifice and that’s just not right,” Oemig says.
Republican State Representative Mike Hope also voted no, stating:
“I like funding education first and I have a fundamental problem when you don’t use a priorities-of-government approach to cut education,” says Hope.
Most lawmakers, however, voted yes. And said this was an important first step toward bringing the budget back into balance. The legislature’s efforts are expected to cut the current $1.1 billion shortfall in half.
Governor Gregoire will add to that with another round of executive-order cuts. But the crisis is far from over. In January, lawmakers will begin their regular session still facing a multi-billion dollar shortfall through 2013.