Next round of state budgets will hit hard

Gov. Gregoire has even suggested eliminating bus service for public schools.


Since the Great Recession struck, citizens of Washington have seen state government deal with one round of budget cuts after another. It's occurred with such regularity that some folks are becoming numb to it.

When the Legislature met last spring it had to chop nearly $5 billion from spending requests, which hit higher education particularly hard. Negative impacts have also been felt at the state's prisons where cost-cutting moves have forced a reduction in staff and an increase in tension.

But, despite cuts that followed cuts, most Washingtonians seem to have accepted what's going on.

That might change with the next round of cuts.

The September tax-collection forecast indicates the state will be $1.4 billion short of what was predicted just a few months earlier. Gov. Chris Gregoire has called the Legislature into session at the end of this month to trim another $2 billion from the budget to cover the projected loss of revenue and replenish the reserve fund.

Gregoire, who is not seeking re-election, has taken a pragmatic approach to the budget cutting. Her stands are based on good public policy rather than politics.

This time around the governor suggests more cuts to all of state government including higher education and corrections (although prisons are looking at a 5 percent cut rather than the 10 percent or more other agencies could face).

The possible impact of all these proposed cuts is somewhat difficult for the public to grasp because the direct impact on day-to-day life isn't always clear.

But that changed recently when Gregoire suggested doing away with those big yellow school buses, a $220 million cut that's impact is very easy to understand. It means families would have to provide their own transportation to get students to school and back home.

For many it will be just an inconvenience. They will have to juggle their work schedule or rely on family and friends to help out. But for others that might create a crisis if they don't have a job with flexible hours or they don't have a car.

Gregoire was clear she doesn't like this option, but $2 billion has to be cut.

The budget situation has gotten to the point that it's irresponsible to dismiss every cost-cutting idea as unacceptable. In the end, it could come down to the least bad option of several really rotten choices.

And the debate over the future of yellow school buses will be built on that exact scenario.

If the state doesn't cut school bus service, what else can be cut to save $220 million?


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