Is History Museum History? Governor's budget proposal would close state museum in Tacoma

Governor Chris Gregoire released a 2011-2013 biennium budget proposal today that would close the Washington State History Museum in downtown Tacoma. According to the plan, the state museums in Tacoma and Spokane would close, state-funded educational programs and outreach activities through the state historical societies would be eliminated, and “skeleton staffing” would maintain facilities and secure collections. The move would save $5.2 million.

The governor’s budget addresses a $4.6 billion shortfall created by dropping revenue due to the national recession affecting virtually every state across the country, and rising costs to provide basic services such as kindergarten-through-12th grade education and health care.

“The budget I am proposing for the 2011–13 biennium is not a budget I ever expected to see in the state of Washington, and the choices it reflects are the most difficult ones I’ve ever faced,” Gregoire said. “The reality of this recession is that it has dismantled many of the programs that I, and millions of others in the state, value. In any other time I would not sign this budget. 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, and we have been left with few options.”

Deep cuts are made across all areas of state government. The most significant of these include:

— Elimination of the Basic Health Plan, which now offers subsidized health insurance to 66,000 low-income individuals. This saves $230 million in state funds and $117 million in federal funds;

— Elimination of the Disability Lifeline grant for the temporarily unemployable, which serves 28,000 individuals each month, and the Disability Lifeline Medical Program, which serves 21,000 clients each year who have a temporary disability and are unable to work. This saves $327 million;

— Suspension of the Student Achievement Program under Initiative 728, which provides smaller class sizes, extended learning time for students and professional development for teachers. This saves $860 million;

— Suspension of employee salary increases under Initiative 732 for K-12 and higher education teachers and other employees. This saves $280 million;

— Elimination of K-4 class-size reduction funds provided to school districts that exceed the state’s basic education allocation. This saves $216 million;

— Reduction of 3 percent in compensation for state employees. This saves $176 million in state funds and $269 million in all funds;

— Elimination of state general fund dollars for State Parks. This saves $47 million;

— Closing McNeil Island Corrections Center by April 2011. This saves $17.6 million.

“The safety net will be stretched thin in some places and eliminated entirely in others,” Gregoire said. “For the functions that government no longer will be able to provide, we must turn to neighbors, private charities, faith-based organizations and other local programs. Our communities, more than ever, will be asked to step up.”

The budget addresses the shortfall through approximately $3 billion in cuts and $1.1 billion in savings by suspending Initiatives 728 and 732. The balance of the solution is achieved through pension reforms, fund transfers and use of the state’s rainy day fund.

The governor’s budget requires that government services that benefit a relatively small number of people and businesses, like processing permit applications, be paid for by the beneficiary and not the general public. The budget also requires state agencies to deliver important state services at a lower cost. This includes charging higher fees to visit state parks, obtain fishing and hunting licenses, process water rights applications and license adult family homes. Many actions taken by the governor were advanced by her Transforming Washington’s Budget Committee, a group of business, nonprofit and government leaders asked to provide input on how to fundamentally change how the state provides services.

“We must not only cut, we must restructure, modernize, prioritize and position our state as a 21st century government,” Gregoire said. “It’s not just about this crisis — it’s about setting our state on a trajectory that ensures a strong financial foundation for our kids and grandkids. This is a budget that builds the platform for better service and recovery in the years to come.”

The governor announced additional transformative reforms earlier in the week, including plans for controlling costs in pensions and health care as well as consolidating central service, natural resource and civil rights offices and agencies. Additional reforms will be announced in early January.

UPDATE | WEDS., DEC. 15 @ 1:52 P.M.
Statement from State Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn

The past five days have been the worst for students in Washington state in the 30 years I’ve been in education. Gov. Gregoire’s budget proposal will not allow us to move forward. It feels like we’ll be starting over. But this budget isn’t all about numbers; it’s about kids. And once again, our kids got cut. Essential programs are being eliminated, such as in achievement gap, dropout, and career and technical education. These programs help thousands of kids graduate and become career and college ready. The K-4 class-size reductions, which have been funded for more than 20 years, were suspended. That translates into 1,500 teachers losing their jobs. The Governor’s budget proposes $20 million in cuts to our state assessment system during the next two years, but it doesn’t make it fairer for students. Changes in state law will require students to pass five tests to graduate from high school beginning this school year. My math and science proposal makes it fairer for students, will garner the same savings and keeps the graduation requirements as rigorous as they have been. In my two years as state superintendent, I’ve been a champion for students most in need. After seeing the biennial budget and the cuts from the special session, I have to ask: What has happened to our Constitution? Are people paying attention to what our “paramount duty” is? The courts have ruled that the state isn’t adequately funding education, and that was based on budgets two years ago. This budget comes on the heels of the Legislature’s special session, in which $208 million of federal money was eliminated. The effect of this is again to place a larger burden of education funding on local districts when it should be the state’s responsibility.

UPDATE | WEDS., DEC. 15 @ 1:52 P.M.
Statement from Cassie Sauer, Vice President, Public Affairs, Washington State Hospital Association

Today, Governor Gregoire proposed a budget that will shred Washington State’s health care safety net. Her budget will force more than 110,000 people off health insurance on March 1, 2011. These are poor children, people with disabilities, and low-income workers. They have no other options for health insurance, will remain uninsured, and will flood Washington State’s already overcrowded community emergency rooms. Her budget will also eliminate critical health care benefits that low-income and disabled people need to maintain their health. The Governor clearly hopes that non-profits and community based organizations, including hospitals, will be able to pick up the pieces. Let us be very clear: hospitals are not able to absorb the impact of these cuts. If enacted, these cuts will be felt for years to come and will create enormous instability in our state’s health care system.