Gregoire aims to address recession, $2.6B deficit, public safety

In her annual "State of the State" address, Gov. Chris Gregoire Tuesday called on legislators to provide decisive, compassionate leadership...

In her annual “State of the State” address, Gov. Chris Gregoire Tuesday called on legislators to provide decisive, compassionate leadership to navigate through “one of the most difficult chapters” in state history and rebuild Washington state’s economic future.
Addressing a joint session of the 61st Legislature, the governor said that “jobs are the way out of this recession,” and outlined her 10-point plan to create up to 40,000 jobs through capital investments, financial incentives and removing barriers to private investments.

Gregoire said a bright economic future is dependent on a highly trained and healthy work force and asked the Legislature to focus on the following priorities:

A successful education system — Gregoire called for adoption of “All Start” legislation to create a voluntary Washington preschool program to provide early learning opportunities to all 3- and 4-year-olds. Gregoire also asked the Legislature to lift the levy lid and provide equity between the school districts, and to approve an overhaul of the state’s evaluation system of teachers and principals. In addition, Gregoire called on lawmakers to restore funding for college tuition assistance programs;

High-quality health care — Gregoire asked the Legislature to consider restoring funding for the state’s Basic Health Plan, hospice services and maternity care for at-risk mothers;

Keeping families safe — Gregoire said a healthy future requires safe communities. Recognizing the loss of seven law enforcement officers in the past two months, Gregoire called on lawmakers to pass legislation to strengthen the state’s mental health laws, increase the sentencing tools of prosecutors, and give more weight to law enforcement and criminal histories when making commitment decisions.

Gregoire also asked lawmakers to focus on government reform and called upon legislators to approve measures to eliminate 78 boards and commissions, as well as realign or eliminate one-third of the 64 small state agencies.

Gregoire also asked the Legislature to move 25 programs out of the Department of Commerce, and expressed her intentions to partially or fully close 10 state institutions.
Facing a $2.6 billion shortfall, Gregoire said the state will have to make up to $1 billion in drastic cuts that will affect Washington families. Gregoire asked the Legislature to consider new revenue to restore $750 million to support key programs in education, public safety and health care.

— 2010 SUPPLEMENTAL BUDGET —

Also this week, Gregoire unveiled her 2010 supplemental budget.

Last month, as required by law, Gregoire submitted a balanced budget with no new revenues, representing $2.6 billion in cuts to services critical to citizens such as public education and health care.

In testimony before the Senate Ways & Means committee this week, Gregoire presented a new spending plan that would restore $779 million in services cut from her original December proposal. These restorations include:

— Levy equalization, which provides extra support to school districts with a lower than average property tax base ($165 million);

— State Basic Health Plan, which provides health care coverage to nearly 65,000 low-income people ($160.5 million);

— State Need Grant program, where grant amounts for qualified students are funded and eligibility is restored for 12,300 college students ($146.4 million);

— A re-designed General Assistance / Unemployable program, which provides grant support for an average of 23,000 adults and medical services to nearly 7,200 adults ($84.5 million);

— All-day kindergarten, gifted student programs and Reading Corps ($42 million); and

— Subsidized child care for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) recipients and low-income families ($39.5 million).

Gregoire also proposed policies to introduce what she calls greater tax fairness by closing loopholes that have either outlived their usefulness or are no longer equitable in today’s tough economy. Gregoire’s proposal includes addressing several court cases that have expanded the scope of tax preferences beyond their original intent, eliminating policies that unfairly benefit out-of-state businesses and closing ineffective tax exemptions totaling $258 million in revenue this biennium.

In addition to plans to improve tax fairness, Gregoire said that additional resources from the federal government could be expected, although exact amounts are not yet known. Gregoire also pledged to work with lawmakers to secure additional revenue, if needed.

— PLAN TO ENHANCE COMMUNITY PROTECTION, SAFETY OF OFFICERS —

On Wednesday, Gregoire outlined a series of proposals to increase the safety of communities, as well as the law enforcement officers that protect them.

“In recent months, I have personally met too many grieving law enforcement families, who through the violence of a stranger have lost a mother, a father, a spouse, a son, a daughter,” Gregoire said. “I pledged I would support them, and all our men and women in uniform.”

Gregoire said she is proposing to add a new option in the state’s justice system: guilty and mentally ill. This option would allow courts to find a person guilty of a crime and sentence them to prison, instead of a state psychiatric hospital.

“The rights of dangerous mentally ill offenders can’t trump the safety of our families,” Gregoire said. “If an offender is guilty and mentally ill, they will be guaranteed appropriate treatment inside our prison system.”

Gregoire added that for those people who have been found not guilty by reason of insanity, and therefore have not been convicted of a crime, she is proposing they face a newly created Safety Review Panel, which will consider the release with “an eye toward protecting our community.”

Gregoire also announced she plans to ask the Legislature to amend the constitution, and provide judges the discretion to deny bail where public safety is at risk.

Additionally, Gregoire said she is directing the Department of Corrections to link to the State Victim Notification System to make certain the department is notified when an offender is released from jail; working with the law enforcement community to improve computer alerts so an officer knows whether an individual they are contacting has a history of violent criminal behavior; seeking stiffer penalties for offenders in Community Custody who assault a law enforcement officer or a community corrections officer; and ensuring that families of fallen officers receive the support they deserve by proposing that survivors receive benefits regardless of length of service. Gregoire is also proposing that children of fallen officers receive a free college education.

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