OLYMPIA, Wash. - Gov. Chris Gregoire warned state lawmakers on Tuesday that they'll be making some decisions in the coming session that will "keep them up at night." In her State of the State address, she likened the Legislature's task this year to the challenges faced by state lawmakers just after the Great Depression. Gregoire says both eras will be known for their unpopular changes - and she recommended a few to get started on.
The Governor outlined plans to consolidate 21 state agencies into nine, and to study whether only the users of some services, like state parks, should have to pay for them.
Advocates for education and social services already delivered 28,000 signatures on petitions to lawmakers this week. Their message is that more cuts are not the only answer, according to Anne Martens, spokesperson for the Our Economic Future Coalition
"The petitions ask the Legislature to take a more balanced approach to managing the recession, ask them to look first at closing some of these loopholes and special tax preferences, before we cut any further into education and health care."
Gregoire also suggests what she calls "tuition flexibility" at universities, and reducing workers' compensation costs for businesses. (The full text of the speech is online at www.governor.wa.gov
The Governor is asking for repeal of a 1995 pension law giving state retirees annual cost-of-living raises, which she says the state can no longer afford. Tim Welch, communications director for the Washington Federation of State Employees
, says pensions are not part of collective bargaining, so the security of the state's retired workers is in the hands of the Legislature.
"State employees don't get rich off pensions. Their average annual pension is about $19,000 a year, and that's not an awful lot to live on. If you think about it, if your pay is frozen and 30 years later, you're still at that same level, that really isn't fair."
Welch says state workers are also concerned about consolidating agencies - a move he says could backfire if larger agencies are harder to manage.
Gregoire told lawmakers their first priority of the new session should be to wrap up the work they began in December, on her all-cuts supplemental budget.