Budget proposal holds promise of lesser job cuts

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The Washington State Penitentiary would lose a minimum of 29 full-time jobs under the no-new-tax 2010 budget proposal presented today by Gov. Chris Gregoire.

The proposal calls for closure of "six wing" in the Main Institution in November 2010. The governor has asked for $6.8 million in startup design money for new medium-security units at the penitentiary.

Local officials were encouraged by the proposal, a huge change from the potential loss of 300 jobs at the prison. But they were also subdued. The governor was clear she plans to write another budget that includes tax increases.

"This document is not true to the values I believe in and which have guided me through a 30-year career in public service," Gregoire said in a prepared statement. "It is not a budget I can live with, nor is it one I believe Washingtonians can live with it."

However, her proposal for saving $65 million in the Department of Corrections, created a more positive scenario for the Washington State Penitentiary. Thought the proposed budget is not expected to stand, local officials plan to use her recommendations for the Walla Walla prison as a baseline for their advocacy efforts.

"It's hard to be happy when you're facing 29 job cuts," said Port of Walla Walla Executive Director Jim Kuntz, chairman of the Washington State Penitentiary Community Task Force. "But from what it could have been, I think we're cautiously optimistic going forward."

Former state Rep. Dave Mastin, recently hired as the lobbyist for efforts to save jobs at the penitentiary, called the proposal "a first good step in the legislative process."

Gregoire's Corrections proposal, reportedly authorized for immediate implementation, lays out six actions statewide, including closure of a wing at the penitentiary's main institution and the beginning of construction of new, more efficient units.

Penitentiary Officer John Christy said today he worries about closing the main institution. He said the units 1 and 5 were closed earlier this year. Shortly after that, unit 1 was re-opened to house inmates from "a large-scale disturbance." Those inmates have since been shipped to Intensive Management Units throughout the state. More recently the unit's been used to segregate inmates with H1N1.

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