Governor's deep cuts are acknowledgment of harsh reality

The revenue shortfall is over $4 billion, which means entire programs and services are on the chopping block.

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Gov. Chris Gregoire is moving fast and with clear authority. She's on a mission to reduce spending and change state government.

On Tuesday, Gregoire called for a merging of several state agencies and eliminating three dozen boards and commissions with an estimated savings of $30 million. The plan reduces 21 state agencies to nine.

"To help offset the shortfall, we must put forward to the Legislature transformative ideas," Gregoire said. "It can't just be about cutting, it has to be about changing."

On Wednesday, she got really serious. Gregoire proposed $4 billion in cuts over the next two years that do away with some state services to the poor, slash spending on education, cut pay for state workers, close prisons and reduce ferry runs.

Eliminated would be the Basic Health Plan, the program that provides subsidized health insurance for the working poor. Also gone would be the Arts Commission as well as the state tourism office.

Tuition at state colleges and universities would continue to increase at a double-digit rate to supplement the loss of state subsidy.

"In any other time, I would not sign this budget," Gregoire said in a letter attached to her proposal. "It's difficult to support something that goes against all we have accomplished over the past six years. But these are the circumstances we find ourselves in."

Clearly there is something in this proposal for everybody to hate. When the House and Senate begin crafting their versions of the 2011-2013 budget, it's certain they will be juxtaposed with Gregoire's deep-cutting budget. Lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle will likely take shots at Gregoire's plan (some fair, some unfair).

Gregoire's plan is harsh. Taking away the Basic Health Plan will devastate some families and so will the cuts to higher education linked to a 22 percent increase in college tuition.

But when over $4 billion has to be cut from a budget slightly over $30 billion, difficult -- and harsh -- cuts have to be made.

State workers will also take a hit as the unions agreed to a 3 percent pay decrease through furloughs. This would impact about 90 percent of state workers.

State Sen. Joe Zarelli, the ranking Republican on the Senate Ways and Means Committee, was unusually supportive of the Democratic governor.

"The governor has to be given credit for taking a very tough and delicate situation and actually presenting a list of options ... that get us where we need to be," he said.

Gregoire's budget plan does not call for new or higher taxes nor does it count on the federal government coming to the rescue.

Gregoire's plan is an acknowledgment of the cold reality Washington state government faces. She is showing strong leadership by forcing lawmakers -- Democrats and Republicans -- to tackle the fiscal crisis with their eyes wide open.

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