Politics & Government

Gregoire warns of bigger cuts

Gov. Chris Gregoire warned Wednesday that she could be forced to make across-the-board cuts of 20 percent if the Legislature doesn’t come up with a budget-balancing agreement.

Gregoire expressed frustration about the continued stalemate between the House and Senate over a tax package.

“They were here too long as of Monday morning,” said Gregoire, who had initially called for lawmakers to finish the overtime legislative session by last Sunday.

She said that if lawmakers aren’t wrapped up with their work to patch a $2.8 billion budget deficit by the time the special session ends next month, she won’t call them back to town unless they have a firm deal. If they don’t, she says, she’ll have no choice but to make drastic cuts to state agencies and programs.

“Every day we don’t get a solution is costing us more cuts. There’s no question about that,” she said. But, “calling it a day and doing 20 percent cuts, I don’t know when that would occur.”

Most lawmakers were away from the Capitol on Wednesday, with only budget negotiators left behind to continue working toward agreement on a tax package and a spending plan.

The two chambers have been unable to agree on which taxes to raise to help balance the budget. The Senate’s tax proposal is centered on a temporary two-tenths of a cent sales-tax increase, while the House’s package, based on a compromise proposal from Gregoire, focuses on closing tax exemptions and collecting more money from service businesses.

House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam, said her caucus doesn’t have the 50 votes needed to pass a sales tax.

“I don’t know what we do,” she said. “We’re all frustrated.”