April 7, 2011 in City

Democrat plan prevails

GOP likely to push its proposal as House debates budget
By The Spokesman-Review
Plan to save MAC goes to full House

 A House panel approved a plan that would keep the Museum of Arts and Culture open as part of a reorganization. The State Government Committee narrowly approved a bill that would create a new state department with the authority to spend money currently planned for a Heritage Center in Olympia on the MAC and the State History Museum in Tacoma.

 Democrats called it a difficult choice between existing facilities and something new. Republicans said the new “mega-agency” wasn’t needed and that their budget plan would keep the museums open without tapping the Heritage Center account.

 The plan now goes to the full House.

OLYMPIA – As several hundred protesters chanted about corporate greed and demanded tax increases, House budget writers gathered to decide which of two plans they would endorse to cut billions from state programs.

They chose the Democratic version in a late-night session that voted on party lines to send that $32.4 billion spending blueprint to the House floor for a possible debate on Friday. Republicans will likely push the full House to adopt their alternative budget during the debate.

The state’s budgeting process, which faces serious time constraints as the Legislature slogged through Day 87 of its 105-day session, featured competing spending plans in the House. Republicans unveiled their alternative budget Wednesday afternoon, proposing more cuts from health insurance and disability programs but spending more on public schools.

“We are giving the voters … a much more responsible alternative,” said Rep. Gary Alexander of Olympia, the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee.

Their plan sought to end state support of the Basic Health Plan, which provides medical insurance for low-income residents, and eliminate the Disability Lifeline, which offers health insurance and cash grants to some disabled residents. The Democrats’ plan would reduce eligibility levels for Basic Health and revamp the Disability Lifeline so that it provides medical insurance and housing vouchers, but no cash grants.

“The Democratic budget tries to maintain the government of the past. We’re trying to look forward,” Rep. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup, said.

House Republicans want to spend more for mental health, developmental disability and long-term care programs. Their plan did not include plans to sell or lease the state’s liquor distribution system and spend the money on state programs.

In all, the House Republican proposal would’ve cut an additional $300 million in state spending. Like the Democratic budget, it proposed no new taxes, increases of existing taxes or closure of any of the hundreds of tax exemptions.

Both plans are wrong to protesters who streamed into the Capitol on Wednesday afternoon with signs and banners demanding a budget with more money for programs supported by the elimination of tax exemptions for businesses. A crowd estimated by the Washington State Patrol at about 300 held a rally in the rotunda, then marched across the parking lot to the House Office Building, where the Ways and Means Committee was deciding which of the two budget proposals to send to the floor.

After the hearing room filled up, protesters paraded through the marbled hallways, circled out of the building, then rushed the windows outside the hearing room to shout “Hey-hey, ho-ho, corporate breaks have got to go” and “Money for health and education, not for banks and corporations.”

They moved away from the windows and onto the sidewalk when state troopers told them to get off the rain-soaked lawn or be arrested. Eventually the protesters returned to the rotunda, where some unrolled sleeping bags with plans to spend the night. General Administration announced the building was closing at 7 p.m.; state troopers were instructed to allow demonstrators to stay if they wanted, but barred them from re-entering the building if they left.

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