OLYMPIA -- Programs that help Washington's poor were among those cut from Gov. Chris Gregoire's proposed two-year budget Wednesday, a plan she said she hated so much that "in some places, I don't even think it's moral."
Gregoire used a mix of cuts to state programs, suspension of voter initiatives and use of the state's "rainy day" fund to patch a projected $4.6 billion deficit.
The approximately $3 billion in cuts to her 2011-13 budget included the elimination of the Basic Health Program, which provides subsidized medical insurance to 66,000 poorer Washingtonians. Also eliminated is cash grants and medical care for the Disability Lifeline program, which mostly aids childless adults who are unemployable but not receiving federal aid.
Among local recipients of Disability Lifeline grants are survivors of domestic violence, who often suffer from post-traumatic stress and other mental health issues that can make it difficult for them to hold employment.
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"These are the clients we have the hardest time being able to find long-term solutions for," said Kelly Abken, director of Domestic Violence Services of Benton and Franklin Counties.
"Unfortunately, when their lifeline is gone, they have no choice but to go back to an abuser," Abken said. "They're just left with no options."
The proposal also would eliminate the Children's Health Program, which provides medical coverage for 27,000 children who could be in the country illegally. A state food stamp program for those who don't qualify for federal food stamps also was cut.
Gregoire noted that the word "eliminate" is used about 80 times in her budget.
"I hate my budget," she said, tearing up. "I hate it because in some places, I don't even think it's moral."
While social and health services took a big hit, education spending also saw deep reductions. Gregoire saved another $1.1 billion by not paying for two voter-backed education initiatives that deal with teacher pay raises and money for reducing class sizes.
The biggest reductions were in K-12 education, through the suspension of teacher pay and class size Initiatives 728 and 732, as well as a 10 percent reduction to a state scholarship and student outreach program.
"We would lose about $100,000," said Suzanne Feeney, superintendent of the Finley School District. "That would have a direct impact on the number of teachers we're able to maintain."
Also cut was $600 million that would have gone into additional spending on public education, the first phase of a multiyear plan that was dictated under a bill passed during the legislative session this year.
Gregoire suggested a 6.3 percent reduction in levy equalization payments, which help K-12 districts that have lower levels of property tax support. Combined, these and other cuts to education save the state $2.2 billion in the next two years.
That reduction would translate to a loss of $800,000 for Pasco schools, said Howard Roberts, director of fiscal services. The district has a lot of low-income students and is one of the fastest-growing in the state, he said.
"Any cuts to levy equalization are inequitable," he said.
Higher education would see across-the-board budget cuts of 4.2 percent at four-year schools, and community and technical colleges, saving the state $102 million. The cuts could result in fewer classes being offered, larger class sizes and fewer faculty positions.
Gregoire's proposal would allow colleges and universities to raise tuition for resident undergraduates at set amounts. For example, a student at a community college would see an increase of $280 in fiscal 2012, followed by a $305 increase in fiscal 2013. A student at the University of Washington would see their tuition increase by $940 in 2012, and by $1,050 in 2013.
Gregoire proposed a bump in financial aid to help offset costs for students.
Other cuts also could result in the cancellation of school building projects.
The state's 34 community colleges agreed on a list of requests for new buildings, ranked by importance. The governor's proposal picked different items off the list without regard to the order in which the colleges put them, said Richard Cummins, president of Columbia Basin College.
The money for a new social science and world languages building at CBC is cut in the proposal. The college already has spent money on the design and planned to break ground in 2012, Cummins said. And CBC has the students to fill it now.
The proposal also cut $17 million in worker retraining from community college budgets. It's the worst time to cut these programs, Cummins said.
"Worker retraining is what community colleges do in hard times," he said. "We're a huge part of the employment pipeline when the economy suffers."
Gregoire's overall plan leaves the state's operating budget with a balance of about $881 million.
"We have had to cut the unthinkable to prevent the unbearable," Gregoire said.
The governor would tap about $290 million from the state's Rainy Day Fund, created by voters for budget emergencies, and transfer about $400 million in funds from other accounts to the state's operating budget.
Earlier in the week, she announced pieces of her budget plan, including the consolidation of several state agencies, the elimination of three dozen boards and commissions, and changes to the state pension system.
State workers also will see a 3 percent cut in pay through unpaid time known as furloughs, and Gregoire's budget office said about 2,000 fewer state positions will be filled throughout 2013, which will involve some layoffs.
A coalition of critics, including nurses, teachers and workers in community health, immediately spoke out against the proposal.
In the Tri-Cities, Abken said she didn't envy Gregoire's position in having to write this budget.
"These budgets are so scary for everyone," she said. "It's the most vulnerable in our society that we are abandoning. Because the most vulnerable don't have strong voices, don't have constituents and lobbyists behind them, sometimes these programs can be low-hanging fruit and get lopped off and the impact is so tremendous. The long-term cost is immeasurable."
Advocates for people with developmental disabilities also are concerned about cuts for their vulnerable clients.
"We do not want to see this important service lost or The Arc of Tri-Cities finding itself in the same position as the Volunteer Center," The Arc of Tri-Cities Director Judy Westsik said in an e-mail to the Herald on Wednesday.
The Benton-Franklin Volunteer Center recently announced it would close because money has dried up.
Representatives from The Arc, Columbia Industries and other agencies supporting people with developmental disabilities will gather for a candlelight vigil at Richland's John Dam Plaza at 4 p.m. today to raise awareness about how budget cuts hurt the people they serve.
Lawmakers start their 105-day legislative session in January, and Democratic leaders in the House and Senate will present their own proposals then.
House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, said that while the House proposal likely will not look exactly like the one Gregoire proposed, "any of the choices we make will have a serious negative impact on the social structure of our state, the education of our children, and the future of our economy."
"We are out of good options," he said in a statement.
Rep. Gary Alexander, R-Olympia and ranking Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, said the governor's budget "includes some bold moves that are necessary if we're going to break the cycle of unsustainable budgets moving forward."
Tax increases likely are not an option following the November election, where voters rejected several new taxes and placed renewed restrictions on the Legislature's ability to raise taxes without a statewide vote.
"I got the message, I heard it loud and clear," Gregoire said. "I honor the voters of the state of Washington, and the budget is what it is."