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WA State Budget Cuts: Citizens Plead, Lawmakers Ponder

January 12, 2010

OLYMPIA, Wash. - On Day One of the 2010 State Legislature, petitions from more than 20,000 Washingtonians asked Gov. Chris Gregoire and state leaders to focus on raising revenue rather than cutting programs and services that affect the state's quality of life, from health care to education.

Cecily Jenkins, a single mom from Tacoma who presented the petitions, says her concern is for the younger generation.

"I know that they have to make some harsh decisions - and I'm just hoping that, while they're making these harsh decisions, our children are not a part of that. No matter what, they have to be able to have the services for a good future, for them and for families."

One of the programs slated to end is state-funded early learning for 1,500 low-income children, with hundreds more on waiting lists. Other cuts would end tuition assistance for 12,000 college students, and eliminate more people from the Basic Health Plan. Signers of the petitions say all of these are vital to helping the state recover from the recession.

With a $2.6-billion state budget gap, some say government is learning the hard way how to spend less money. Others say tax increases and eliminating exemptions and loopholes are necessary. Jim Dawson, organizing director for FUSE Washington, the group that collected the petitions, says 70 percent of state spending is mandated by the Constitution and can't be cut, which means more money has to be raised.

"This is the responsible approach. This is how we protect the things that everyone values in Washington state - like quality schools, dependable health care system, good-paying jobs and the social services that folks really need during this hard time."

Many critics believe the governor is counting too heavily on federal funds to help ease the budget crisis, which they hope won't give lawmakers an excuse to put tax reform on hold for another year.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA