Budget envisions added ag fees

Ted S. Warren/Associated Press Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire talks to reporters on Nov. 21 about her proposal to address a projected $1.4 billion deficit at the state Capitol in Olympia, Wash. Gregoire proposes $1.7 billion in cuts to state government and suggests a temporary sales tax increase.

Temporary increase in sales tax proposed alongside cuts

By STEVE BROWN

Capital Press

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Gov. Chris Gregoire's proposed 2012 supplemental budget specifies $1.7 billion in spending cuts, primarily in education, public safety and social services, and increases in some agriculture-related fees.

In a proposal released Nov. 21, she also asked the Legislature to allow voters to consider a temporary half-cent sales tax to ease some of those cuts. The tax would raise $494 million through June 30, 2012, and expire July 1, 2015.

Other proposals would affect farmers and others in natural resource industries. Scott Dahlman, public policy analyst at the Washington State Farm Bureau, said a couple concern him.

"The governor is attempting to put fees on hydraulic project approvals, and there are none currently," he said.

According to the state Office of Financial Management, the governor's budget would save $1 million by cutting program funding to the Department of Fish and Wildlife and imposing a fee to support it.

Dahlman also pointed out further cuts in the agricultural burning program, which would be offset by increased fees. The Department of Ecology operates the smoke-management permit program designed to protect public health and safety. Current fee levels do not cover the cost of the program as required by statute, according to the OFM report. To reduce the state subsidy, $162,000 would be shifted to a different account "in anticipation of an administrative fee increase."

In reaction to increasing demands on Washington State Department of Agriculture-administrated Food Assistance Program, the proposal adds $1.5 million to that budget. That will provide an additional 4.5 million meals to the 89 million meals the program provides annually, according to WSDA spokesman Jason Kelly.

The governor proposes reducing the Conservation Commission's administrative and operations grants by 28 percent to encourage districts to pursue local assessments. Only 15 of 47 districts have assessments.

Earlier this fall, after hearing negative revenue forecasts from the state's economist, Gregoire asked state agencies to detail how additional 5 to 10 percent cuts would affect them. Across-the-board cuts are not acceptable, she said, so she ordered a special session of the Legislature, which will convene Nov. 28.

If the Legislature approves a budget before the end of special session, Gregoire plans to spend the regular session, which starts in January, focusing on policy bills to support job creation and economic growth.

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