Locke budget tries to balance the cuts

Staff and wire reports

OLYMPIA — Gov. Gary Locke, facing a divided Legislature and pinched revenues, proposed a $22.7 billion "hard choices" budget Tuesday that cuts services to the poor while envisioning billions for roads and schools.

Locke’s budget would lift the state’s spending lid to pay for voter-approved raises for teachers, but doesn’t spell out how he would pay for a mammoth $9.6 billion transportation program.

Locke insisted his budget hews to the voters’ desire for spending limits, but said it makes sense to exempt voter-approved mandates from the old spending cap.

"In one sense, this budget was written in voting booths from Spokane to Seattle, where voters made the clear choice to spend hundreds of millions of dollars — new dollars — for education," he told reporters.

Voters in November passed Initiative 732, which mandates annual cost-of-living raises for teachers, and I-728, which allows local school districts to keep more of their state property taxes at home. The measures will cost the treasury nearly $800 million in the next two years, Locke said.

He proposes to exempt the pay raises — $325 million — from the spending limits voters put in place in 1993 with Initiative 601.

The governor’s two-year spending plan got a mixed reaction. Locke faces a 49-49 tie in the House and a scant one-seat Democratic majority in the Senate.

Advocates for the poor and for senior citizens were aghast at the cuts he proposed. Republicans were upset with his heavy use of the state reserves and his plan to lift the state’s spending limit.

"There is gonna be one helluva battle, I can tell you," said Rep. Tom Huff, R-Gig Harbor, retiring co-chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. Borrowing a line from President-elect Bush, he said, "There’s a lot of fuzzy math" and shaky assumptions in Locke’s budget.

Democrats were more generous, calling it a good starting point for budget talks in the Legislature. The new session convenes Jan. 8.

Senate Majority Leader Sid Snyder, D-Long Beach, said spiraling health care costs and the education spending will make it tough to pass a palatable budget this winter.

"There are some good things (in Locke’s proposal) for kids, some good things for education, but overall it is a pretty ugly budget, and I think it’s clear that what we end up passing will be pretty ugly," he said.

Locke’s proposed budget contains $236 million in program cuts, 83 percent of which come from the Department of Social and Health Services, the Department of Health and the Department of Corrections.

"You will find some pain. But the people of Washington expect fiscal discipline," he said.

To balance the budget, he said the state must concentrate on core services. Locke made it clear his top priorities are education and transportation.

Cuts are proposed for adult dental care, mental hospitals, medical care for the indigent, chore services, nursing home reimbursement and other social services.

Locke also offers another unpopular place to save money: driver’s education subsidies for local schools. Savings: $5.6 million.

Locke restored proposed cuts in the state park system and even boosted its budget by 14 percent.

His transportation plan would include $5.9 billion for new state projects and $3.7 billion for local funding. The state share, which would double the current spending level, includes money for high-priority projects in Snohomish County, such as I-5, I-405 and Highway 9.

A tax package for next fall’s ballot will be produced in cooperation with the Legislature, he said.

"I call on the Legislature to join with me in finding a funding plan that will make sense to the voters," he said, adding, "It’s no secret what the alternatives are."

Asked if that includes a gasoline tax increase, he said: "Everything is on the table. I’m open to anything and everything."

The governor provides smaller pay raises for college professors and state employees than those mandated for public school teachers. Teachers will get a raise of 3.5 percent in the first year of the budget cycle and 2.6 percent the next year. Other public employees will get 2.2 percent and 2.5 percent, respectively.

All public employees will be required to pick up a greater share of their health care costs, Locke said.

Locke’s social services budget does include $84 million for improved services to abused children, vulnerable and elderly adults, and foster children. More money is provided for supervision of sex offenders in civil commitment programs.

The governor renewed his proposal for a property tax break for seniors and the disabled.

"Given the fact that the governor’s got to make the cuts he has to, he’s probably made the cuts as fair as they can be," said Bill Vogler, executive director of the Washington State Association of Counties. "That doesn’t mean we’re happy with the cuts."

Talk to us

More in Local News

Chestnut mushrooms grow in a fruiting tent on Friday, Dec. 1, 2023, at Black Forest Mushrooms in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Fungi town: Downtown Everett home to new indoor gourmet mushroom farm

Black Forest Mushrooms will grow up to 20,000 pounds of tasty mushrooms each month. Its storefront opens Saturday at 2110 Hewitt Ave.

Outside of Angel of the Winds Arena on Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Police arrest Angel of the Winds arena worker accused of stabbing boss

The man allegedly walked up to his employer and demanded a raise, before stabbing him in the stomach, witnesses said.

The town post office in Index, Washington on Wedesday, Nov. 29, 2023.  (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Index, smallest town in Snohomish County, is No. 1 in voter turnout

Index has beaten the Snohomish County ballot return rate in each of the last 10 years. Snohomish County leaders have a few theories as to why.

Founder and Executive Director Pa Ousman Joof, alongside Lynnwood Mayor Christine Frizzell, right, prepares to cut the ribbon during the grand opening of the Washington West African Center on Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023, in Lynnwood, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Born out of struggle, West African Center flourishes in Lynnwood

African music filled the room Saturday at 19203 36th Ave. West, for the grand opening of the nonprofit’s new state headquarters.

An STI clinic opened Friday, Dec. 1, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Free STI clinic opens in Everett after 14-year hiatus — and as rates spike

The county-run facility will provide treatment and resources for prevention of sexually transmitted infections.

Graffiti covers the eastern side of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Snohomish County Cascade Unit on Friday, Dec. 1, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Again, Boys and Girls Club tagged with suspected gang signs in Everett

Residents on Cascade Drive say their neighborhood has been the scene of excessive graffiti and sometimes gunfire in the past year.

A suspected gas explosion on Wednesday destroyed a house in the 19700 block of 25TH DR SE in Bothell, Washington. (Snohomish Regional Fire & Rescue)
After a newly bought Bothell house exploded, experts urge caution

The owners had closed on their purchase of the house just two days earlier. No one was hurt in the explosion.

A sign in front of the AquaSox front office references the upcoming Everett City Council vote on a sum of $1.1 million to give to outside contractors to help upgrade a new stadium on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Everett AquaSox stadium upgrade gets $1.1M green light from city

City officials want to keep the team in Everett. But will they play in a new stadium downtown in 2027? Or an updated Funko Field?

Snohomish County Councilmember Nate Nehring, left, speaks alongside Councilmember Jared Mead during the Building Bridges Summit on Monday, Dec. 4, 2023, at Western Washington University Everett in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
County Council members launch bipartisan ‘Building Bridges’ nonprofit

Jared Mead, a Democrat, and Nate Nehring, a Republican, hosted an event attended by 100 people this week in Everett.

Assistant Superintendent Patty Dowd greets a family with their child’s laptop and other class materials outside Endeavour Elementary on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2023, two days after an overnight fire tore through the inside the school in Mukilteo, Washington. Classes will be held online until after winter break to give crews time to make repairs to the building. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Fire closes Endeavour Elementary in Mukilteo until 2024

Classes shifted to remote learning after a fire damaged the school Monday. Laptops were handed out Wednesday.

Everett Police Chief Dan Templeman announces his retirement after 31 years of service at the Everett City Council meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
After 40 days retired, Everett ex-police chief hired to mayor’s office

Everett’s longtime police chief, Dan Templeman, retired Oct. 31. He’s set to start a new role as senior executive director Monday.

The Monroe Correctional Complex on Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
‘Unexpected’ deaths are up in Washington’s prisons

At least 29 people died unexpectedly in Washington’s state prisons from July 2022 to June 2023.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.