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Kitsap legislators deride Gregoire’s budget

Gov. Chris Gregoire (left) and Rep. Sherry Appleton contemplate the wares at Pouslbo’s Sluys Bakery during Gregoire’s visit to Kitsap earlier this year. - Brad Camp/staff photo
Gov. Chris Gregoire (left) and Rep. Sherry Appleton contemplate the wares at Pouslbo’s Sluys Bakery during Gregoire’s visit to Kitsap earlier this year.
— image credit: Brad Camp/staff photo

The initial consensus is clear.

Kitsap County’s three legislators are no fans of Gov. Chris Gregoire’s initial budget, released Dec. 9.

“It was terrible — you can’t just cut people off basic health services,” Rep. Sherry Appleton, D-Poulsbo, said.

Gregoire, who is required by state law to release a balanced budget, proposed slashing $1.7 billion in spending, including the elimination of the state’s Basic Health Plan, which enrolls 65,000 people.

She has personally distanced herself from the budget, which closed a $2.6 billion gap overall with the addition of shifting certain funds and tapping reserves, saying she is open to looking for new revenue options.

Rep. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, said she is especially worried about the proposed elimination of the General Assistance-Unemployable program, which provides services for people unable to work because of disabilities.

“There are thousands of people on this program, probably around 600 in Kitsap alone,” she said.

Kitsap’s legislators still have some plans of their own for the upcoming legislative session, which begins Jan. 11, despite the state’s dire economic situation.

As chairman of the Senate Environment, Water and Energy Committee, Sen. Phil Rockefeller, D-Bainbridge Island, is looking to expand his recently passed bills to increase the lifespans of homes through new insulation and structural repairs, and to help create community programs to increase solar power use.

Despite the tight budget, the state managed in 2009 to expand its Puget Sound Partnership program, which aims to clean up and reduce the amount of pollutants that enter the state’s inland waterways.

After receiving $20 million from the federal government for the program in 2009, Rockefeller hopes to see the state receive as much as $50 million this year, and continue to receive contributions from the private sector.

‘Housekeeping’

Rolfes said most legislation this year will consist of cost-neutral “housekeeping items.”

For example, she said she would like to introduce legislation to reduce potentially dangerous crab pots lying in Puget Sound.

As a member of the House Health and Human Appropriations Committee, Appleton said her session will be dominated by trying to save these health services.

However, she is hoping to receive funding for renovation of the Kingston Village Green and to help expand Martha and Mary, a national non-profit organization that provides childcare facilities and has multiple locations in Kitsap.

She is also cosponsoring a bill to legalize marijuana.

“It’s time for discussion,” she said. “It’s not going to pass this year because the federal government needs to change its policies.”

Rockefeller said the state is restricted to certain areas of the budget for cuts because the state constitution mandates funds for certain aspects of education, law enforcement and programs with matching federal funds, such as Medicaid.

Rolfes said the Legislature is likely to discuss privatizing the liquor business to raise revenue, a proposition she said has little potential to provide significant revenue in the short term.

However, Rolfes said there’s no doubt that the state’s sales tax is regressive and that the state has options to raise revenue by closing property tax loopholes and looking for new tax sources.

After remaining steadfast against any tax increases in 2009, Gregoire said she is open to new ideas this year.

“The tone of the discussion has definitely changed in the past four or five months,” Rolfes said. “There’s a belief that revenue won’t pick up in 2011 and will be stable for a while.”

As Appleton sees it, tax reform is needed across the board.

“We cut everything last year as much as we could,” she said. “We can’t cut the safety net or eventually it will just cost us 10 times more.”

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