Lawmakers in Washington State convened for a one-day special session in Olympia on Saturday (December 11) and, with unusual speed and bipartisan consensus, approved nearly $600 million worth of budget cuts that ordinarily would provoke loud protests and pointed debate.
Among the cuts approved by legislators: nearly $50 million from the Department of Corrections, including the closure of a prison facility; $50 million from K-12 education, including funding intended to keep class sizes small; $51 million from higher education, including at several of the state's flagship universities; nearly $30 million from a state-subsidized health insurance program for the poor; and the elimination of non-emergency dental care for poor adults.
"The angry clashes that often seen when state programs get axed were replaced with resignation that resistance was futile," The Seattle Times reported
. The resignation was apparent in the vote totals on the primary piece of legislation approved Saturday, which cleared the state House 86 to 6 and won approval in the Senate, 30 to 9.
"I'm very proud of what the Legislature was able to do today and how they did it. I think it's historic, the bipartisan way in which they stood up to the most challenging time in 80 years," Democratic Governor Chris Gregoire said, according to The Times
. "I'm hoping they have built up a momentum that candidly shows the rest of the country how to get it done."
Washington lawmakers' work is far from over, however. The one-day special session tides lawmakers over until January, when the regular legislative session begins, but the state still faces an estimated $1.1 billion budget hole that was only partially addressed by Saturday's cuts.
Complicating matters, the latest budget maneuvers include tricks -
such as counting on increased tax revenues -
that could appear overly rosy in hindsight. Washington's tax revenues have struggled to keep up with expectations, and voters in November rejected a proposed income tax on wealthy earners as a way to raise more money.
"If the revenue forecasts don't get a whole lot better quickly, come early next year the Legislature will have to cut even deeper," SeattlePI.com noted
. "This half billion was relatively easy. The next half billion won't be."