Friday, October 28, 2011

Budget Crisis, Round Two (or is it Three)

The state of Washington is about to get hard once again due to needed budget cuts.

For the fourth year in a row, Gov. Christine Gregoire on Thursday outlined more than $1.5 billion is state cuts to health care, social services, prisons and education.

The latest round would increase public-school class sizes, eliminate subsidized health care for the working poor and release hundreds of inmates early.

“These are pretty much the very shocking things we’ve been trying to avoid for the last three years,” Senate Ways and Means Chairman Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said of the governor’s proposal.

“There are no choices left,” he added (Source: Seattle Times)
We have been down this road once already. The last time was much worse, in terms of dollar amounts. In the last legislative session, over $5 billion had to be trimmed from the state’s budget. All kinds of program were impacted, including health care, prisons, and government salaries (3% reduction).

While the dollar amount of the cuts begin sought by Gov, Gregoire won’t be as large, the reductions could have far wider and significant impact.

Here are some of the programs that will see reductions or eliminations (amount saved):
Supervision: Reduce to 12 months supervision for all released offenders except sex offenders ($27 million)
Early Release: Release 150 days earl those offenders with low to moderate risk of reoffending, including sex offenders ($18 million)
Social Services:
Drug Abuse: Reduce of eliminates some chemical-dependency programs ($30.0 million)
Elder Care: Eliminate long-term-care services for 5,000 elderly clients and 800 people with developmental disabilities ($35 million)
Food Aid: Eliminate sate food-assistance program ($14.5 million)

Health Care:
Help for Disabled: End medical services for 21,000 people enrolled in Disability Lifeline and alcoholism and drug-treatment programs ($110 million)

Basic Health: Eliminate Basic Health Plan, which provides subsidized health care to 35,000 people ($48 million) (Source: Seattle Times)

Gov, Gregoire is also proposing cuts to education that total nearly a half of a billion. These cuts would mean larger class sizes and reduced programs and more than likely, higher user fees for sports and clubs. Education is far and away the largest expenditure in the state, accounting for nearly 44 percent of the entire budget. She is also looking at state worker salaries and benefits once again. The last time around state employees took and across-the-board three percent pay cut through July 2013.

A couple of notes on this.

In Seattle, class sizes are at the whim of the teacher’s union. Class sizes are currently contractually restricted. Anyone want to place a bet that the unions won’t budge on this? As a second wager, I give the over/under for when the local union heads are going to start crying about how the children are going to be devastated and that is their only concern is for the kids at five days past the 17 November finance review. Oh, and I’m sure there will be the usual ranting that because taxes can’t be increased Republicans are soulless wretches that want children to fail, old people to die, and violent criminals released. Never mind that the state government is run by democrats, the Governor is a democrat, and the state in general has voted dem nationally for years and that state voters have overwhelmingly passed initiatives reigning in tax increases. This is a state where dem and independent voters are far and away are more numerous than those mean old Republicans.

As for getting state employees to take a cut in their benefits, union leaders have already said it. Ain’t gonna happen.

Citing a looming budget shortfall, Gov. Chris Gregoire’s office on Wednesday asked union-represented government workers to consider cutting their health-care to save the state money.
The initial reaction from the largest state-employee union? Fat chance.
“We think she needs to look elsewhere,” said Tim Welch, a spokesman for the Washington Federation of State Employees, which represents about 40,000 government workers who get state health-care benefits. (Source: Seattle Times)

Obviously, as a conservative, I am not a fan of Gregoire who is a democrat, but I have admired her dedication and hard work to get the budget balanced over the past couple of years. Of course, she is required to do so by the State Constitution, but it still takes guts to make some of the calls she has had to make over the recent years.

But I am going to question her sanity here. Did she really think that a union representative was going to say, “heck yeah, we’ll work with you to get this bad ol’ budget balanced.” I can certainly see a desire to maintain the status quo when it comes to pay and benefits; no one wants to give up more money.

But the alternative for union members (not the union representative) could even be worse.

Gov Gregoire has no power to make changes to state employee benefits or compensation as there is currently a contract that runs through 2013. Currently, state employees contribute 15 percent of the cost for health insurance, the state chipping in the rest. If she can’t get concessions that she thinks she needs, she does have the power to fund agencies that would force these agencies to make cuts in employees. Never mind the “decrease” in benefits, heck now we’re out of a job.

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