Democratic leaders in the state House and Senate said Gov. Chris Gregoire's order today for 6.3 percent across-the-board spending cuts is the most expedient way to get government back in the black after this morning’s bleak revenue forecast slashed another $1.4 billion from the horizon.
More interesting perhaps is that both Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown and House Speaker Frank Chopp put out a joint statement that embraces the idea of a smaller or "rescaled" government. That would be their one concession to the Republican minority today. The Democrats are rebuffing new calls by Senate Republican Leader Mike Hewitt and House Republican Leader Richard DeBolt to have Gov. Gregoire call a special session of the Legislature.
Said Chopp and Brown:
State revenue forecaster Arun Raha announced the lower quarterly forecast, which shaves $770 million from the state’s expected tax receipts through June 2011 and put the state general fund at least $516 million into the red. This triggered Gregoire’s order to cut spending by 6.3 percent with only basic education, debt service and pension obligations exempted from the order.
Gregoire told reporters in Olympia on Monday she did not know how the Department of Corrections, for example, can make its cuts, which could include closure of an institution.
Here is the preliminary story from The Associated Press (I was serving as the reporter for several Olympian editorial board interviews this morning so I missed the forecast council’s meeting).
Several lawmakers are putting out statements on the subject, urging a special session to tailor the cuts to avoid hitting vulnerable people.
In a rare bit of bipartisanship Sen. Joe Zarelli, the ranking Republican on Senate Ways and Means, and Sen. Margarita Prentice, the Democratic committee chairwoman, put out a joint letter to about 50,000 state employees today. The letter, according to Zarelli, said:
This is your chance to be heard, have your ideas acted upon and better serve the people of Washington. Please be assured that we, along with legislative staff, will take the time to review all ideas submitted. Thank you for your time, ideas and service. Sincerely, Senator Joseph Zarelli Sen. Margarita Prentice Ways and Means Committee Ranking Member Ways and Means Committee Chair
We’ll have more later on this unfolding story of budget cuts and election-season maneuvering.
UPDATED to add links for the full 50-page revenue report and the statement from Democratic leaders. Our reporting partner Jordan Schrader of The News Tribune is preparing a story for tomorrow’s print editions.
SECOND UPDATE: Democratic Rep. Brendan Williams of Olympia, who is retiring his position at year’s end, put out a statement that aligns him with Republicans on the special session question (except for the content of the session discussion):
Of course, Williams proves the leaders’ point in one sense. He wants to close tax loopholes or exemptions benefiting banks, which the Democratic majority could not find votes to do in its April special session.