First public hearing in Tacoma kicks off Transforming Washington’s Budget tour

July 20, 2010 | Alex Stone

Last night’s public meeting of Transforming Washington’s Budget in Tacoma had a little something for everyone.

Attendance was estimated at 450 people

Marty Brown, Governor Gregoire’s Budget Director, emceed the event. It began with a short speech from the Governor to outline the purpose of the public meetings and establish the criteria for evaluation of programs and services.

After that, it was on to presentations from budget experts on education, social and health services, economic development, government efficiency, public safety, and natural resources.

If you like long and boring presentations, you would have loved this portion (although in fairness, engaging budget presentations may be more uncommon than unicorns). Pie charts and a couple of handouts supplemented the presentations, which were intended to give the public a better understanding of which services, structures and programs receive public funds.

In the second hour, Brown selected spokespeople representing groups, as well as people speaking for themselves, to come to the front for public comment. Each speaker was allowed two minutes, and were asked to suggest ideas for reforming the state budget. By my count, a total of 36 speakers approached the microphone representing a wide array of interests. Here are  a few highlights:

  • Several speakers suggested the governor end the $5 million tax break to the TransAlta coal plant in Centralia;
  • A community corrections officer emphasized the need to fund community custody instead of incarceration (which is higher cost);
  • Home-care and child-care workers showed up to support state programs that keep elderly people out of nursing homes and prepare kids for school — both proven cost savers;
  • Several speakers emphasized prioritizing the funding of programs that receive federal match grants, pointing out that when the state de-funds programs with a federal match, the cut is two-fold;
  • And a few people suggested the state consider all revenue options, including closing tax breaks and taking a closer look at our state’s regressive tax structure.

Governor Gregoire and the Transforming Washington’s Budget Committee, Monday night in Tacoma

All-in-all, public comment was very supportive of continuing state funding for specific programs, with ideas for specific spending cuts perhaps not as strong as suggestions for adding new revenue. Some of the more interesting ideas for backfilling the upcoming revenue shortfall were issuing license plates for two years, a laundry list of accounting changes (delivered rapid fire by a local accountant), and cutting state ferry routes.

You can read (and vote on) more ideas from Washington residents in the Transforming Washington’s Budget online suggestion box, and even submit your own. Here are a few ideas for writing your suggestions.

Upcoming public hearings:

  • July 21Everett, 7-9 PM, Everett Community College, Parks Building, Multi Purpose Room, 2000 Tower Street
  • July 27Vancouver, 7-9 PM, WSU-Vancouver, Administration Building Room 110, 14204 NE Salmon Creek Avenue, Vancouver
  • July 29 Spokane, 5-7 PM, Spokane City Hall, City Council Chambers, 808 W. Spokane Falls Boulevard
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