State agencies map out possible cuts to plug budget hole

OLYMPIA — Layoffs, cuts in human service programs, and delays for a slew of road projects loom if the state is forced to pare billions of dollars in spending in response to a budget crunch brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tax collections are plummeting as a result of the shuttering of much of the economy since late March in an attempt to blunt the spread of coronavirus. Even as the state slowly reopens and the wheels of commerce restart, lawmakers and Gov. Jay Inslee are facing a potential $4 billion hole in the current budget which runs through mid-2021.

While reserves can plug part of it, Inslee directed state agency leaders to put forth blueprints for cutting 15% in spending from their current budgets. The Office of Financial Management posted their responses online Monday.

With lawmakers expected to convene a special session this summer, the information will provide them and the governor with guideposts for potential cuts.

Almost every one contains layoffs, furloughs, not filling vacancies or forgoing pay hikes.

For the Commission on African American Affairs, it would mean not hiring a person to craft a strategic plan for the panel and a serve on a number of boards and task forces.

For Attorney General Bob Ferguson, it would require eliminating up to 211 full-time-equivalent positions, impacting his office’s provision of legal services for state agencies. Such reductions could mean children remain in Washington’s foster care system longer without permanent homes and vulnerable citizens left in dangerous circumstances, he wrote in his submission.

The Department of Social and Health Services laid out roughly $500 million in cuts for this budget with a large chunk tied to the Aging and Long-Term Support Administration, which oversees nursing homes and adult family homes. To achieve the savings, fewer people would be served.

And the Department of Transportation took the approach of deferring projects. In addition, Washington State Ferries would trim service and highway maintenance would be scaled down.

This is a budget cut drill,” said David Schumacher, director of the Office of Financial Management. “You will see there are a lot of terrible things to get to 15%. If we actually had a budget like this it would be horrifying.”

Information from agencies is posted online at www.ofm.wa.gov.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @dospueblos.