After more than a month of negotiations, Gov. Chris Gregoire signed into law Friday a package of deficit-cutting measures that attempt to patch a shortfall of more than half a billion dollars in the current fiscal year.
But the action Friday still leaves the state hundreds of millions of dollars in the red.
The agreement trims several state programs, including the state’s health care program for the poor and aid for the disabled, as well as transfer funds from other programs. In total, the plan slashes the estimated deficit by about $370 million, with about $242 million in cuts and $125 million in transfers.
The cuts signed into law differed a little from what the House and Senate approved earlier in the day. Gregoire vetoed a handful of provisions in the bill, worth about $6 million in cuts.
She vetoed a $1 million reduction in state government’s public relations staff. That would have trimmed some of the more than 380 communications, sales and marketing jobs in state agencies, but Gregoire said their work is important to government transparency.
She also noted that the cut didn’t touch communications jobs in the Legislature. That staff has taken cuts, but still has more than 30 year-round workers who deal with the media and the public, even though the 147 lawmakers are in session only a quarter of the year.
Another proposed cut to administration, a reduction in the management staff at the Department of Social and Health Services, was also removed by Gregoire’s veto pen. She said the department has already cut 147 staff.
In another veto, Gregoire declined to pause the outfitting of the new State Data Center. Some lawmakers are concerned about a report that the center was built too large.
The governor also vetoed a 3 percent pay cut for more than 16,200 non-unionized state workers starting April 1, three months earlier than the cut is due to start for most workers.
Gregoire raised concerns about fairness, since unionized workers would be spared the early pay cut, and about the low-income workers who would be included in the cut. She also said changes to the state payroll couldn’t be made in time.
The Office of Financial Management estimates that the remaining projected deficit for this current fiscal year is $226 million, adding in the money not saved from the vetoes. The fiscal year ends in June.
“The March forecast will provide remaining information to complete the final supplemental,” Gregoire said in a statement. “The Legislature now must turn its attention to the immediate challenge of addressing the 2011-13 budget. This will not get easier with time.”
Among some of the ideas to finish patching up the deficit to the current fiscal year is delaying state payments to school districts by one day, essentially kick up the payment to the next two-year budget.
Lawmakers have spent more than a month of the 105-day legislative session trying to come up with this agreement, and now, Gregoire and legislators will have to tackle an estimated $5 billion deficit in the next two-year budget, which is roughly $37 billion.
The Senate voted 37-10 and the House voted 55-41 to approve the package.
Staff writers Jordan Schrader and Brad Shannon contributed to this report.