Schools chief might refuse governor’s request on budget cuts

  • By Jerry Cornfield Herald Writer
  • Monday, September 26, 2011 12:01am
  • Local News

OLYMPIA — State schools chief Randy Dorn may be positioning himself to fend off cuts in education funding in the special session later this year.

He didn’t reply last week to the governor’s request for ways to pare spending in public schools to help the state plug a projected $2 billion hole

in its budget.

He’s preparing an answer to deliver this week, and his response to where he would cut will likely be along the lines of one word – nowhere.

Around the governor’s office, the expectation is Dorn will be sending a letter spelling out why he thinks the flow of dollars in elementary and secondary schools cannot be choked off any further.

Nathan Olson, spokesman for the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, declined Monday to discuss any aspect of what Dorn will communicate to Gov. Chris Gregoire.

“We’re currently looking at our options right now. By the end of the week we should have some details,” he said.

Whether Dorn makes the point in a letter or other means of communication won’t much matter for the governor’s budget writers. They’re busy preparing a blueprint for getting to $2 billion in reductions to give lawmakers in advance of their post-Thanksgiving special session.

“We will include cuts for education,” said Marty Brown, the governor’s budget director. He said they hope to release the ideas the week of Oct. 24.

In June, Gregoire signed a balanced two-year budget detailing $32.2 billion in spending from the state’s general fund on schools, human services, corrections, health care and the rest of government. To get there, she and lawmakers agreed on roughly $4.6 billion in cuts with little more than a quarter of it coming from public schools.

Now, after two straight forecasts of declining tax collections, the state faces another projected shortfall and Gregoire is bringing lawmakers back Nov. 28 to deal with it.

In the meantime, the governor, anticipating the bad economic news, directed leaders of state agencies to send her ideas on how they would trim 10 percent of their respective budgets. She also asked the other statewide elected officials if they would do the same for the departments they oversee. Those plans came in Sept. 22.

Dorn didn’t send one in, and his response this week appears calculated to let the governor and lawmakers know how strongly he feels that education be the last place they look for savings in the special session.

“He’s made it clear (in the past) he doesn’t want any more cuts to education,” Olson said. “We’ve been cut to the bone.”

Dorn is alone among statewide elected officeholders in not answering Gregoire’s request for ways of cutting up to 10 percent of their allotment from the general fund.

Secretary of State Sam Reed outlined ways to slice $1.54 million from his budget including a $364,104 savings in the production of voter pamphlets. To do it, he suggests the full text of initiatives no longer be in the pamphlets which would save on printing. Rather, the full text would be posted online.

Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark spelled out where $6.89 million could be erased from the Department of Natural Resources. Roughly $2 million might come from the fund used to fight fires. It hasn’t been a bad fire season so there are more dollars socked away than past years.

Attorney General Rob McKenna put forth ways to trim $803,000, including reducing staff and services in the consumer protection unit of his office.

Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler submitted a pretty short report because his office’s day-to-day operations are funded from assessments on insurance companies and not dollars from the general fund.

He did note $200,000 could be pared from the final year of a five-year study of how the health care market is affected by patients who choose to directly pay doctors for primary care rather than going through a health insurer.

And Auditor Brian Sonntag and Treasurer Jim McIntire did not send in anything because their agencies do not rely on the general fund to pay for their day-to-day operations, according to spokesmen for the two agencies.

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

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