Gregoire to call special legislative session to cut budget
Gov. Chris Gregoire says she'll call a special legislative session before Christmas to deal with a projected $1.1 billion state budget shortfall for the current fiscal year.
Seattle Times Olympia bureau
OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire says she'll call a special legislative session before Christmas to deal with a projected $1.1 billion state budget shortfall for the current fiscal year.
The governor made the announcement Monday after meeting with Democratic and Republican leaders from the House and Senate.
No date has been set, but Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown said she urged Gregoire to start the special session Friday and work through the weekend.
"My input to her is we're here now, so it's probably less expensive overall if people just stay," said Brown, D-Spokane.
House and Senate lawmakers will be in Olympia this week for committee meetings to get up to speed on issues they expect to face during their regular session, which starts in January.
Republicans said they're ready to go anytime. "We know there's a problem and that we have to be part of the solution," said House Republican leader Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis. "We're going to team up, and we're going to be part of the solution."
House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, could not be reached for comment. He issued a statement saying progress was being made toward an agreement on budget cuts.
Gregoire gave legislative leaders until Thursday afternoon to give her a date for a special session.
"I made it clear we're going into special session," Gregoire said. "I just want to know from them what day they want to come in. I'd like them to come in, get the job done and go home."
What happens if they can't agree on a day?
"I'll give them a day," Gregoire said.
The governor last month laid out options to cut more than $1 billion from this year's budget. The proposed cuts included eliminating the state's Basic Health Plan, an insurance program for the working poor; and Disability Lifeline (formerly known as General Assistance-Unemployable), which provides a temporary safety net for people unable to work because of mental or physical disabilities.
Democratic and Republican leaders also have given Gregoire lengthy lists of possible budget cuts to help balance the current spending plan.
The House Democrats' proposed budget cuts run to 20 pages and include reductions to dozens of programs. Unlike the governor's plan, the list would reduce but not eliminate the Basic Health Plan and Disability Lifeline.
Senate Republicans, among other things, proposed cutting pay for state workers by 2.5 percent to save $46 million this fiscal year, eliminating all-day kindergarten to save $22.6 million; and removing illegal immigrants from the Basic Health Plan, which Republicans say would save $8.5 million.
The governor said a special session is warranted because last month's revenue forecast showed tax collections falling below projections.
Overall, the state expects to bring in around $900 million less in revenue this fiscal year, which runs through June. Costs of state programs — including health care for the poor — also have risen, bringing the shortfall for this fiscal year to $1.1 billion.
The projected shortfall for the next two-year budget is at least $4.6 billion, according to the governor's budget office. Earlier information from the office stated the shortfall for the next budget was projected at $5.7 billion, but that incorrectly included the shortfall from the current fiscal year.
Gregoire said she doesn't expect to solve the entire budget problem for this fiscal year in a special session but wants to tackle a big chunk of the shortfall. The longer lawmakers delay action, the deeper they'll have to cut.
"What I'm asking them to come in and do, is take some early action on a number of issues so we can advance the ball dramatically," she said.
Brown, the Senate majority leader, said Gregoire set a goal of cutting $650 million from the budget in the special session. Brown wasn't sure if that number could be reached but said several hundred million dollars in cuts could be made.
Votes from both parties would be needed to approve the cuts, she said.
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