Gregoire hears from 400 on budget at EvCC forum

EVERETT — Gov. Chris Gregoire got an earful from residents Wednesday on how best to spend their tax dollars.

Gregoire came to Everett Community College where she asked the 400 people who showed up for ways to run state government in less costly and more efficient ways.

Some told her to cut costs by trimming salaries of state employees, selling off the state ferry system and privatizing port districts.

Richard Bowyer of Mount Vernon suggested slashing aid to illegal immigrants and lowering the tab for public education by giving fewer students a state-funded bus ride.

“How about every seventh- through 12th-grader who lives within two-and-a-half miles of school be required to walk to school?” he said.

But many argued for preserving funding of services for seniors, veterans and the poor, lowering tuition at colleges and restoring cuts made to environmental protection programs.

“We don’t want more cuts,” said Kristin Kelly, Snohomish County Program Director for Futurewise. “You need to stop taking money out of our environment.”

Nearly 50 people showered Gregoire with their views at the second of four public sessions the governor and her budget-writing team are holding around the state this month.

Another 1,124 ways to cut spending and reform government have arrived from the public via a website launched Monday. Those suggestions include requiring drug testing of welfare recipients, eliminating snacks at staff meetings, ending a requirement for front license plates and legalizing marijuana.

Gregoire and her budget director, Marty Brown, will pore through them in the next few months as they craft a plan for spending in the next two-year budget.

That’s going to be a challenging budget to write.

The state’s fiscal health is suffering the effects of a recession, high employment and greater demand for public services, she told the crowd. There is a projected $3 billion hole in the 2011-13 budget that needs plugging and she said she’s scouring the state for the right means. In the past two years, the state has cut about $6 billion from its budget and laid off about 1,000 state workers.

“The public needs to be a critical part of the solution,” she said. “I come to listen. I come to hear what you have to say.”

Most speakers did not suggest where to cut but where to spend.

One speaker urged continued funding of family planning programs only to be countered moments later by Ed Mohs of Marysville.

“It’s time to de-fund Planned Parenthood and save money, millions of money,” he said.

Also in attendance Wednesday were 15 members of the Committee on Transforming Washington’s Budget. Gregoire created this panel of lawmakers, business leaders, community activists and academics to come up with ideas and evaluate some of those from the public.

Bowyer applauded the governor for undertaking the fact-finding effort but isn’t confident the public’s voice will win out.

“If they would do some of this, great,” he said. “I think it’s a placebo to the public.”

Reporter Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com

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