by David Ammons | November 13th, 2009
Governor Gregoire and the Legislature had to grapple with a $9 billion budget problem last year, and they’re not out of the woods yet. Recovery of the state economy is still elusive, and a new revenue forecast next week could show still more slippage before it gets better.
For now, the placeholder number for the problem that awaits Olympia: $1.7 billion. That includes $1.2 billion from revenue falloff and from loss of a big tax lawsuit, and $533 million from apparently unavoidable costs, such as health care, schools and prisons, over-optimistic assumptions, and lawsuits blocking cuts. Senator Joe Zarelli and other conservatives are already calling for cuts now.
How big is $1.7 billion? The governor’s office is using a presentation that shows the scope of cuts that would get you there. That’s roughly the same as wiping out mental health and development disabilities services, or prisons. Care for low-income elderly could be cut up to $1.3 billion and welfare $1.1 billion. Non-protected education spending, such as on class-size reduction, could be cut $635 million and higher education, mostly financial aid, $500 million. Juvenile corrections could be cut $198 million. Eliminating state-funded environmental and natural resource programs and all parks could save $364 million.
Eliminating all of the legislative and judicial branches of government would save, drum roll please, $335 million. Closing all communities colleges, plus the Departments of Commerce and Revenue, could save $1.7 billion. Shuttering the four-year universities and the Department of Health would save $1.5 billion.
None of these things will happen, of course, but the point is, it’s a large number. Gregoire’s actual budget request comes out in about a month.