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Washington House approves spending cuts

$300 million to come from present budget

OLYMPIA – The state House kicked immediate budget savings into gear Monday, approving a roughly $300 million package of spending cuts. But minority Republicans warned that the Legislature is still not moving fast enough in the face of a huge budget deficit.

The House’s “early action” savings plan makes spending cuts in the present state budget, which runs through June. It also assumes Washington will get about $350 million in federal spending to help with Medicaid and welfare costs.

The bill, approved on an 83-13 vote, is a relatively swift response by the Legislature to a budget deficit that could top $6 billion over the next 2 1/2 years. The bill now moves to the Senate for further consideration.

Republicans, stuck deep in the minority, assailed the savings proposal as far too little.

“We’re postponing the inevitable and making the debt bigger,” said Rep. Mike Armstrong, R-Wenatchee. “Here we are, once again, putting a Band-Aid on a problem that needs major surgery.”

Majority Democrats agreed the “early action” savings were small, but said they couldn’t go further until estimates of the state’s program costs and tax income are presented, perhaps later this month.

That’s when the real serious work of whacking into government spending will begin, warned House Ways and Means Chairwoman Kelli Linville, D-Bellingham.

“There are going to be a whole lot more cuts, and there is going to be a whole lot more pain,” she said.

The House made some changes from the budget blueprint presented by Gov. Chris Gregoire, particularly in the area of kids’ health care. The House bill would keep in place money needed for growth in the Apple Health for Kids program, a project that Gregoire trimmed in her budget proposal.

But overall, the House’s package of cuts has a price tag fairly close to that proposed by Gregoire.

Essentially, the Legislature is breaking a tune-up budget for the present fiscal year into two chunks. The cutbacks are being passed first. Then, after lawmakers get a clearer picture of the state’s finances, they will approve bills that pay for the ongoing operations of government.

Gregoire said Monday she supports the two-pronged plan of cuts now and spending later, particularly if it keeps legislators from tapping the new Rainy Day Fund to pay for immediate costs.

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