Voters sent a no-taxes message Tuesday and expect an all-cuts budget to solve the state's $4.8 billion budget shortfall next year, Gov. Chris Gregoire says.
The second-term Democrat also told reporters in a conference call from Germany, where she is on a three-day trade trip, that she is open to calling a special legislative session if lawmakers can agree on quick passage of her supplemental budget. Gregoire expects to share that proposal with lawmakers soon after the Nov. 18 revenue forecast.
Top Republicans – House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt and Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt – sent Gregoire a letter Friday asking her to call a special session early in December. Gregoire, who will have smaller Democratic majorities to work with in the House and Senate, left the door open.
“If we can get it done, I’m not going to dismiss the idea of bringing them back for a day,” Gregoire said, adding that she won’t call in lawmakers without an agreement for quick action on the budget.
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Much rides on the Nov. 18 revenue forecast and a related case-load forecast.
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 soon will deplete their benefits, and they could become eligible for food stamps, welfare and Medicaid health benefits, Gregoire said.
Gregoire said that with a potential for increased caseloads, she will either need to order additional across-the-board cuts in December or call a special session.
The governor already has ordered more than $500 million in across-the-board cuts to balance the state’s books through June. But some of the proposed cuts – such as ending prescription-drug coverage for out-patient Medicaid clients – require legislative action.
Gregoire wants lawmakers to get started soon after the forecasts.
“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.
Hewitt and DeBolt appeared to be looking for even quicker action. Their letter asked 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 said she is not expecting any federal help. Nearly $2 billion of the predicted $4.8 billion budget hole was created by a loss of federal subsidies that were part of the federal stimulus last year and additional aid that Congress approved this year for states.
And she thinks voters are unwilling to spend more for government.
“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.”
Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688 firstname.lastname@example.org www.theolympian.com/politicsblog