Spin Control

Lege leaders: Tax hikes, probably no; Basic Health, Lifeline, maybe yes

OLYMPIA -- There's no chance the Legislature will ask voters for a tax increase for anything -- except maybe for highways and other transportation projects -- legislative leaders said today.

Appearing at forum to preview the upcoming legislative session, the Democratic and Republican leaders of both chambers agreed the Legislature will have to cut billions from the state's general fund spending rather than trying to raise taxes to fill some of the gap between expected revenues and the cost of state programs and salaries.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said there was a chance the Legislature could put a "transportation package" on the November ballot for major road and bridge projects. "Any details would obviously have to be worked out. I'd like to see the North-South Corricer as part of the projects."

Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, was doubtful:  "The state doesn't have any money. It's going to be difficult to get anything past the voters."

But Republican and Democratic leaders balked at Gov. Chris Gregoire's proposal to eliminate two major programs for the poor, state-funded Basic Health and the Disability Lifeline for people who are unable to work because they are disabled.

"I don't think it's in our best interest to eliminate this," House Speaker Frank Chopp said.

Hewitt agreed, saying the programs might needs some revisions, a drop in benefit payments or tighter limits on eligibility, but were still needed to "catch the people at the bottom." The state might consider making everyone reapply for the programs, as it did in 2003, which resulted in a 30 percent drop in participation because some recipients were no longer eligible.

"We're going to look for an alternative to completely eliminating them," Brown said.




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