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2011 WA Legislature preview: There will be budget cuts

At the Associated Press' Legislative Preview on Jan. 4 in Olympia, leaders of the House and Senate, as well as Gov. Christine Gregoire discussed plans for the upcoming legislative session that begins Jan. 10.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown (D-Spokane), Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt (R-Walla Walla), House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt (R-Chehalis) and House Speaker Frank Chopp (D-Seattle) took turns discussing their ideas and plans for the massive budget balancing effort due to take place during this year's legislative session.

Gov. Gregoire reiterated her goals concerning the budget, and made her stance on the budget clear: "I will not sign a budget that is not balanced," she said. Gregoire's budget priorities were previously discussed during the Legislature's one-day special session Dec. 11, 2010, when legislators skimmed $880 million worth of cuts out of the 2011-2013 proposed budget.

Gregoire said that the $4.6 billion that needs to be cut from the budget must come from certain parts of the budget that amount to only $14 billion. Gregoire expects this will result in the loss of 10,000 state jobs. "It's not a budget that I think anybody is going to embrace," she said.

According to Gregoire, the proposed budget cuts include 3 percent of state employees' pay, a $480 million cut to social services, less funding for parks, fewer raises for K-12 teachers, and fewer Washington State Ferry sailings. Also, 21 government agencies will be consolidated into eight, and 12 state-owned properties will be sold.

Cuts to higher education will be made, though Gregoire emphasized her reluctance to damage the quality of education in Washington. Sen. Brown agreed that higher education cuts were inevitable, but that if tuition increases were necessary, they had to be representative of the income levels of students attending each school.

For instance, the income level of University of Washington students and their families is higher than that of Eastern Washington University students, so tuition should be raised proportionally instead of uniformly.

Sen. Brown also said that government and election reform will be prevalent topics in the Legislature this session, although the $4.6 billion budget shortfall is the biggest issue. Brown and Senate Minority Leader Hewitt agreed that they need to align revenue with spending in the upcoming session, while "watching out for the vulnerable in our society," said Hewitt.

House Minority Leader DeBolt said that for him, the upcoming session is about stimulating business in Washington. He has a plan that will create 50,000 jobs in the state by the end of the year by eliminating roadblocks like the wait-list for businesses to receive or expand their permits, he said.

This report is courtesy of the University of Washington Olympia News Bureau.

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