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Budget Will Include Spokane Projects Pacific Science Center And Riverpoint Funds Included

Wed., May 24, 1995

State lawmakers were headed toward adjournment late Tuesday as they neared agreement on a state budget that includes money for the Pacific Science Center and the Riverpoint campus.

Rep. Todd Mielke, R-Spokane, chairman of the House Republican Caucus, said late Tuesday he was confident he would round up enough Republican votes to pass the budget. He predicted adjournment at a little past midnight.

The new budget includes $2 million to develop a science center at Riverfront Park. Another $2 million is intended for the Pacific Science Center in Seattle. Also, the budget brings $3.3 million to design a second academic building at the Riverpoint Campus.

No money was provided for expansion of the Cheney Cowles Museum, nor consolidation of some state offices in a new building in Spokane.

“It just didn’t pencil out,” said Sen. James West, R-Spokane. In the end, lawmakers were not convinced the consolidation project would save as much money as proponents promised, West said.

“It was based on inflated assumptions.”

Also under the budget proposal, local social services funded through the Continuum of Care program will receive state money at its current level for one more year.

The programs include the regional center for child abuse and neglect at Deaconess Medical Center and services for runaways at the Crosswalk center in Spokane.

The $17.6 billion operating budget for the 1995-97 biennium also includes a 4 percent raise for state employees, college faculty and teachers.

A plan to require teachers and state employees to contribute to the cost of their health care premiums was dropped. But some employees still will pay more for their health care, because of increased use of managed care plans.

That will mean higher co-payments if state employees choose anything other than the lowest-priced plan, or if they cover dependents on their policy.

At the end of six weeks of negotiations, lawmakers simply split the difference on tax cuts, with $501 million in cuts headed for approval.

Gov. Mike Lowry said he will scrutinize the tax-relief package lawmakers were approving Tuesday night. He said he’s worried about whether cutting the tax base that much is wise, given pending federal budget cuts and other pressures.

Lowry stopped short of threatening to veto part of the tax package.

The House originally wanted to cut taxes more than $700 million, while the Senate pushed for about $264 million.

Major cuts that looked likely to be approved included:

A 50 percent cut in the 1993 increases on business and occupation taxes, at a cost to state coffers of about $173 million

Elimination of the state sales tax on new plant and equipment for manufacturers, at a cost of about $148 million

A five percent reduction in the state share of the property tax, at a cost of about $146 million. The reduction would save homeowners with a $100,000 house about $20 a year.

Democrats said they were disappointed the tax cut plan was weighted so heavily toward business. “It was a question of fat cats versus the little guy,” said Sen. Majority Leader Marcus Gaspard, D-Tacoma.

Democrats wanted more consumer tax breaks, including elimination of the sales tax on over-the-counter drugs, but did not prevail.

In the end the GOP-controlled House backed away from some of its most far-reaching budget cutting proposals, including a more than $120 million cut in K-12 education, elimination of all state money for education reform planning days, and a requirement that all state employees pay $32 toward their monthly health benefit premiums.

The budget includes about $300 million held in reserve.

Lawmakers were satisfied that the reserve offered an adequate cushion against a downturn in the economy. Signs of such a downturn came Tuesday, with a layoff announcement by The Boeing Co in Seattle.

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