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Brown: Budget goals out of reach

Lawmakers may pass ‘substantial piece’

OLYMPIA – Legislators will try to fill some of Washington’s looming budget gap next week but won’t come close to the $2 billion in cuts Gov. Chris Gregoire proposed last month.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown said Friday she expects a budget proposal to be introduced Monday that will address a “substantial piece” of the projected shortfall. She declined to state a specific number, but hinted the amount could be between $100 million and $500 million.

It will be an amount that a majority of legislators in both chambers can agree on, she said, and further cuts and government reforms will come up in the regular session in January.

“We’ll still have a long way to go,” Brown said.

State Rep. Gary Alexander of Olympia, the ranking Republican on the House budget writing committee, told the Associated Press the level of cuts that could win general agreement in both chambers could be as high as $500 million: “There’s enough low-hanging fruit that we can make significant inroads.”

The Legislature won’t vote on Gregoire’s request for a temporary half-cent sales tax before adjourning. The governor had asked for that by the end of the session to meet a deadline for putting the proposal to voters in March; if approved, it would restore about $500 million of the $2 billion in cuts she asked legislators to approve in the emergency 30-day session.

“I thought that was an overly ambitious assignment from the start,” Brown said of the requests for the 30-day special session. “We had a huge responsibility to let the public really weigh in.”

Legislators are also not inclined to eliminate the Basic Health program or the Disability Lifeline, Brown said, or to make cuts in corrections programs, as Gregoire has proposed.

Tentative plans call for a House budget proposal to be released late Monday morning, with a hearing in the Ways and Means Committee that afternoon. Both chambers would debate and vote on the budget, and changes in the law it would require, through the week and finish by the weekend or early the next week.

Legislators would then return after the holidays for the regular session, which begins Jan. 9. Other budget decisions could be made “within a reasonable time frame in the 60-day regular session,” Brown said.

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