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Legislative Leaders Talk Cooperation Prior To Session, Parties Identify Similar Goals, Say It’s Time To End Bickering

Washington legislative leaders and Gov.-elect Gary Locke on Tuesday vowed to put partisan politics aside for the upcoming 105-day legislative session, but conceded they face many potential roadblocks.

Outgoing Gov. Mike Lowry, a liberal, urged the conservative-controlled Legislature to restrain tax-cutting impulses and to consider making some changes in spending-limit Initiative 601. His proposed budget would spend $500 million more than the $19 billion that Republicans intend to spend under the current I-601 cap.

Democrat Locke and legislative leaders from both parties and both houses, appearing at a forum sponsored by The Associated Press, listed many of the same priorities for the new session and insisted they’ll work closely together to minimize partisan bickering.

“It is not time for partisan bickering; it is time for cooperation,” said Senate Minority Leader Sid Snyder, D-Long Beach. He said the public expects legislators to fix problems without wrangling over who gets the credit.

“I don’t see stalemates (happening),” Locke said. “Most of the issues facing Washington have nothing to do with Democrats or Republicans.”

Senate budget Chairman James West, R-Spokane, and several others used the word “collaborative” to describe their approach.

Here were some highlights of the leaders’ comments on issues:

Budget - Legislators and Locke agreed they’ll live under the limits of I-601, which holds spending growth to about 4 percent a year, inflation plus population growth. Republicans declared there will be no changes in the I-601 law, Lowry’s request notwithstanding.

Taxes - Property owners and businesses can expect tax breaks, both parties said. There was general agreement that the business and occupation tax will be rolled back to pre-1993 levels, or by about $205 million. But there was no consensus on how much to roll back property taxes or how the relief system would work.

Education - Lawmakers and Locke said public schools and colleges will be treated well, going to the front of the line for money when the budget is written. They gave no specifics.

Welfare - All leaders said they hope to reach quick bipartisan agreement on a state welfare bill that implements new federal legislation, limiting how long recipients can stay on the rolls and requiring work or training.

Youth offenders - The leaders said they want to crack down on juvenile criminals, but conceded it has been a difficult - and expensive - piece of legislation to write.

Growth management - Republican leaders said they want to crimp the powers of regional landuse review boards. But Locke and House Minority Leader Marlin Appelwick, D-Seattle, are urging caution, seeking to preserve a strong growthmanagement law.

Same-sex marriage - Republicans indicated they’ll pass a ban on same-gender marriages, hoping to preempt a situation where the courts uphold gay marriages in Hawaii, leading to a flood of Washington couples getting married there and expecting Washington to be bound by that state’s law. McDonald said the measure will go to the voters in the fall if Locke threatens to veto it.

Gas tax - Leaders were pessimistic about a transportation tax increase passing during the same session lawmakers cut taxes for general government support. Locke indicated he’ll strongly push such a tax as part of a package to address traffic gridlock and to assure that farm products and other Washington goods can get to market.

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