Democratic Gov. Gary Locke vetoed broad sections of the Republicans’ $19 billion state budget Wednesday, challenging the GOP to add millions for health care, education, employee salaries and other programs.
Republican leaders, who had been expecting the major vetoes, praised the governor for his quick and “surgical” use of his veto pen and promised to immediately begin negotiating with the administration. But they made no promises of major moves toward Locke’s positions.
It was unusually speedy action on the governor’s part. The Legislature sent him the budget on Monday and just two days later, he had prepared a detailed veto message that highlights the areas of disagreement.
Usually, a governor has 20 days after the conclusion of the session to act on the budget. But since Locke had signaled his displeasure with major aspects of the GOP plan, the Legislature got the budget to him in time to do his vetoes and then have a new version passed by lawmakers by adjournment.
His 47 vetoes spanned education, higher education, salaries and other broad areas. The sections involve more than $4 billion in spending, out of the $19 billion total, said Dick Thompson, state budget director.
Both sides said they will try hard to wrap up negotiations in time to allow the session to complete its work by the Sunday night adjournment deadline. If they stumble, Locke would call a special session for up to 30 days - either immediately, or after a break for negotiators to work.
It was the first time in years that a governor had vetoed so much of the budget.
Locke called it “a restrained and constructive” use of the veto pen.
Locke said he liked significant parts of the GOP plan, but complained it “falls short in providing the excellence we want for our education system” and “unnecessarily reduces funding for critical services that help working families, protect abused and neglected children and safeguard our environment and our economy.”
The budget that Republicans sent to Locke was $193 million below Locke’s request. The governor didn’t have a figure for how much the remaining differences total, following his veto of some sections and acceptance of others.
“I don’t see a whole lot of movement in the total amount available,” said House Appropriations Chairman Tom Huff, R-Gig Harbor. The GOP plan is about $136 million below the Republicans’ calculation of the state spending limit under voter-approved Initiative 601.
The Republicans also left reserves of at least $486 million and provided for tax relief of at least $373 million.
Locke told reporters he will scrutinize every tax-cut measure that crosses his desk, both on its own merits and as to whether the state can afford the revenue loss for years to come.
Locke’s request list comes as no surprise to lawmakers, since the priorities were spelled out in his inaugural address, in his own budget proposal, at frequent press conferences and in private meetings with legislative leaders.
Locke’s education vetoes were designed to get more money for education-reform preparation days for teachers, permission to use $16 million in federal Goals 2000 money, levy support for property-poor districts, magnet schools and districts with special needs.
He signed into law the main school budget, including basic aid to education and pupil transportation.
Because of how the budget was constructed, he had to veto virtually the entire higher-education section to seek more money for student financial aid, faculty salaries and other programs. He had no complaint with the number of new enrollment slots the GOP funded.