Legislators Tackle "Worst" Budget As 2011 Session Begins

The 2011 legislative session begins with a big task at hand.  Balancing a $4.6 billion budget deficit won't be easy, in fact many legislators are calling this session their toughest ever.

“In my six terms it’s the worst I have seen budget wise,” says Sen. Mike Armstrong

In December, Governor Gregoire presented her budget, one she balanced with deep cuts to Basic Health and Disability to 66,000 poor Washingtonians, slashing budgets for Early Learning and an estimated 20% cut to higher education. 

"She said she hopes we’ll roll up our sleeves and get it done.  I hope there will be a bi-partisan support to make the difficult decisions we have to make," says Sen. Linda Parlette.

Legislators hope those decisions could include saving some programs, particularly cuts to education. 

“Rather than cut some of those completely if we can let them survive in skeletal form and beef them up down the road when the economy picks back up I think we will be better off," says Sen. Marko Liias.

Democrats aren't ruling out something many voters spoke loud and clear about in November, new taxes.

Some lawmakers say that may be the only way to save some services. 

"The initiative does allow us by a simple majority to send a tax to voters.  If we feel like in education it's not our best case scenario, it may make sense to tie a proposal to restore cuts with some new revenue," says Sen. Liias.

Senators already met in a budget hearing this afternoon, announcing that Ways & Means Committee members will break into eight work groups to study in detail each section of the budget before making any decision.

“The governor has made the first budget so we have to fine tune it but in the end it's probably going to be a budget that none of us like," says Rep. Linda Parlette.

Legislators have until the end of the session in April to vote on a final budget.  The Governor's State of the State address is Tuesday at 11:45.  Monday, January 17th, the Senate Ways & Means Committee plans to take up the topic of cuts to K-12 education.