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WA’s Big Budget Mess gets Officially Bigger

February 20, 2009

Olympia, WA - Washington’s budget challenge is greater than expected, according to the new state revenue forecast released late Thursday. It projects an almost $8-billion shortfall through 2011, which is about $2 billion more than the last projection in November. In Olympia, Democrats are saying it may be time to raise some taxes. Republicans are blaming the Democrats for spending too much in past years.

Nancy Dapper, executive director of the Alzheimer's Association, wonders when state lawmakers will start working together on solutions - not just cuts.

"I think it’s unfortunate, because I do believe that your average citizen really wants our elected officials to figure out something; to be reasonable. I don’t believe they elect people who are just supposed to go in and grandstand for their various parties."

Lisa McFarlane, director of external affairs for the League of Education Voters, says the most-productive way to view such a dire situation may be as a springboard for changes to the state revenue system.

"In education, there is real fear about the cuts, and we think there’s opportunity to build a better finance system so that, when we can start to fund it, we don’t have all the problems we have today."

Rebecca Kavoussi, vice president of the Community Health Network of Washington, says federal money aimed at Medicaid won't be enough to help the growing numbers of uninsured in the state. She hopes lawmakers think about the people who receive services, before they cut them.

"Regardless of your party, those stories do really impact people. When you’re talking about the person who doesn’t go get a test when they’re concerned about something they have because they don’t know how they’ll pay for it – that’s something people have seen other people do."

Already, programs are on the chopping block, such as "adult day health" for seniors and people with disabilities, education reforms passed when times were better, and many state boards and commissions. This was a preliminary budget forecast -- the next ones come out in March and June.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA