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Budget cuts of $105 million proposed

More state cuts are in the works

OLYMPIA – Saying they want to be “quick but deliberate,” state lawmakers Thursday proposed $105 million in state budget cuts. And they promised much more to come.

Among the fast-track plans:

•Freezing the salaries of state managers.

•A ban on most official travel.

•Halting equipment purchases of more than $1,000.

•Re-instituting a state hiring freeze for most jobs.

The proposal also includes a near-immediate budget cut of more than 4 percent to legislative and judicial agencies.

More cuts are in the works, lawmakers said. They hope to save about $300 million between now and July. Far greater cuts are looming over the next two years, with a budget shortfall estimated at from $6 billion to $7.5 billion.

“We have to start somewhere,” said Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane. “But we have a long way to go before we have a comprehensive response to this situation.”

“I’ve been through three recessions (and) Sept. 11th,” said House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam. “Those were totally different from what we’re facing now.”

There was also some good news, however. The state was hoping for $1.1 billion more in federal money over the next two years. But meeting with Capitol reporters Thursday, House Speaker Frank Chopp said that state officials now expect the infusion to be “significantly more than than that,” perhaps $1.5 billion or more.

House lawmakers are also working on a package of government reforms to be released Monday.

“We’re moving on all fronts as quickly as possible,” said Chopp, D-Seattle. He said lawmakers and state unions are discussing having workers take unpaid days off to save some jobs.

Brown said lawmakers are also considering boosting the payments that non-union state employees make for their health care. The increase would be designed so higher-paid employees pay more, she said.

Republicans had called on Olympia’s Democratic majority to quickly come up with a budget for the next six months. The longer it takes, the less money will be saved, said Rep. Gary Alexander, R-Olympia.

Senate Republican budget chief Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, is a co-sponsor of the “belt-tightening” bill. But Zarelli said he still doesn’t think the plan goes far enough when compared with a projected budget deficit of about $6 billion over the next 2½ years.

“I think we’re kind of moving at tortoise speed here, and that’s problematic,” he said. “It inches in the right direction.”

Brown said Democrats want to make cuts carefully. Otherwise, she said, what seem like easy savings could lead to costlier long-term problems.

“In the Senate, we’re prepared to write a full budget like you build a house: Measure twice, cut once,” she said. “We want to be quick and right, not just quick.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Richard Roesler can be reached at (360) 664-2598 or by e-mail at richr@spokesman.com.

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