Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Legislature moving on proposal to whittle down some of budget shortfall

The House Ways & Means Committee this morning recommended passage of an “early-action” supplemental budget measure that would make nearly $480 million in spending cuts and other adjustments as a first step toward closing a projected $1.4 billion revenue shortfall for the remainder of the 2011-13 biennium.
PSHB 2058 and the Senate version, PSSB 5883, include no additional cuts to higher education for now. However, significant reductions are likely to be on the table when the Legislature convenes in January for its regular 2012 session.  That’s when legislators will attempt to finish work on resolving the state’s latest budget crisis.
Today’s House committee action, and a Senate committee vote that could come this afternoon, move the Legislature a step closer to adjournment, possibly this week.  Gov. Gregoire called the Legislature into special session to address the budget after revenue forecasts projected the state would fall well short of revenue assumptions contained in the biennial budget passed earlier this year.
A supplemental budget plan offered by the Governor would cut $2 billion in state spending over the balance of the biennium, including $160 million in support for the state’s public colleges and universities.
The proposal also would suspend the State Work Study program in 2012, saving about $8 million.  Under that proposal, approximately 3,500 low-and middle-income college students would lose money they earn working to help pay college expenses.
The Governor also has proposed a temporary sales tax increase to buy back cuts to higher education institutions and other key programs.
Differences over how to deal with the bulk of the budget shortfall apparently mean the Legislature will be unable to complete the work during the special session. 
One bright spot in the House and Senate budget bills is a provision to add
$1 million for the Aerospace Loan Program. The program was established by the Legislature and Governor earlier this year to provide low-interest loans to students studying aerospace production at two training centers in Everett and Spokane.  The HECB administers the loan program.

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