Gov. Chris Gregoire said voters sent a message Tuesday that they expect an all-cuts budget and no new revenues to help the state out of a possible $4.8 billion budget shortfall next year.
The second-term Democrat also said she is open to calling a special session of the Legislature if lawmakers can agree on quick passage of her supplemental budget, which she expects to share with lawmakers soon after the Nov. 18 revenue forecast. Democrats expect to retain majorities in both chambers.
Top Republicans – House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt and Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt – sent Gregoire a letter today asking her to call a special legislative session early in December.
“If we can get it done I’m not going to dismiss the idea of bringing them back for a day ” Gregoire told Capitol reporters in a telephone conference call from Germany where she is on a trade trip. But she said she won’t call them in without an agreement for quick action on her supplemental budget.
Much depends on the Nov. 18 revenue forecast. Gregoire said she intends to share her supplemental budget request with lawmakers early after the forecast with a goal of getting quick action on it. She ordered more than $500 million in across-the-board cuts a month ago but some of them – such as ending prescription drug coverage for out-patient Medicaid clients – require legislative action.
“I will ask them to come in with me and negotiate a supplemental budget. I’d either like to have it passed in a special session or in the first part – to me that means the first week or couple weeks – of the regular session,’’ Gregoire said. But Hewitt and DeBolt appeared to be looking for even quicker action than that. Their letter specifically asks Gregoire to immediately call the four caucus leaders and possibly budget leaders in for discussions “to begin working on policy changes to stop the bleeding in our state budget.’’
In any case, Gregoire is not expecting any federal help. Nearly $2 billion of the predicted $4.8 billion budget hole is a loss of federal subsidies that were part of the federal stimulus and later aid to the states.
Gregoire said U.S. Sen. Patty Murray told her not to expect an extension of unemployment benefits. This means 50,000 to 60,000 people now getting unemployment pay will soon deplete their benefits, and they could become eligible for food stamps, welfare and Medicaid health benefits, Gregoire said.
With a potential for increased caseloads, Gregoire said she would either need to order additional across-the-board cuts in December or call a special session.
“I think voters are scared, frustrated, angry,” Gregoire said. “They don’t know if they are going to keep their job. They don’t know if they can afford to send their kid to college. They don’t know if they will keep their health care. They sent a message of an all cuts budget. The message I heard is no revenue and an all cuts budget.’’