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Town hall meetings set for Washington state budget

OLYMPIA – With the state facing a possible shortfall of $2 billion in the next budget cycle, the governor’s office will hold town hall meetings around the state on the budget this summer and early fall.

Gov. Chris Gregoire said Tuesday she’ll send the head of the Office of Financial Management to explain the tight budget and give residents “a full appreciation of the trade-offs” for potential cuts.

“I think there’s a misimpression out there, that there’s lots of money in Olympia,” Gregoire said during a news conference. The meetings will give residents a chance to weigh in on “what are we willing to cut or get rid of.”

Gregoire said budget hearings led by the OFM will open up the process and give the public a say in government priorities. “I think it needs to be a much more transparent process,” she said.

An OFM spokesman said the next projection for the 2011-’13 budget cycle is expected by the end of the month, but the most recent estimates show state revenues being $2 billion behind projected expenses for existing programs.

In a far-ranging session, Gregoire repeated her statement that she’s happy with her current job and not looking for a different one in the Obama administration, which reportedly has her on a list of potential replacements for Solicitor General Elena Kagan, a current nominee for the Supreme Court. But she also repeated her qualifier:

“I’ve never had the experience when a president said he needed me to serve,” she said. “You don’t look the president in the eye when he asks you to serve and say ‘No.’ ”

Gregoire also weighed in, when asked, about a possible race between fellow Democrat Patty Murray and Gregoire’s two-time opponent, Republican Dino Rossi, who is expected to enter the U.S. Senate race today. If asked for advice, she’d urge Murray to compare their records for the last six years. Rossi gave up his state Senate seat in 2004 to run for governor.

“What’s he been doing since 2004? … Talk about what she’s done; talk about what he’s done,” she said. “What has he done? He runs on ‘I wrote a budget once.’ ”

Mary Lane Strow, a spokeswoman for Rossi, countered that he’s been in business, “helping to contribute to economic growth” since leaving office. “While Patty Murray has been sitting in Washington, D.C., spending massive amounts of tax dollars and bringing on huge debt levels … Dino has been working in the private sector,” she said.

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