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House Democrats pass budget proposal

Fri., April 6, 2012

OLYMPIA – Admitting it’s not the final solution to the state’s fiscal problem but a way to “move the process forward,” House Democrats passed and sent to the Senate a spending plan to fill the state’s budget hole.

The most important aspect of the budget that passed on a 54-43 vote, Ways and Means Chairman Ross Hunter emphasized, is that “it does not cut education.”

That’s a not-too-veiled dig at a budget passed in the regular session by Senate Republicans and three breakaway Democrats, which did contain cuts to public school and college programs. That group has since proposed a substitute budget to restore those cuts to education, but it has yet to receive a vote.

The House budget has no new taxes – some could be added later, including a tax on “roll your own” cigarettes the chamber passed earlier in the day and sent to the Senate – and leaves the state with an ending fund balance of about $336 million, or slightly more than 1 percent of the overall two-year budget of nearly $31 billion.

“This is part of the resolution to the special session,” said Hunter, D-Medina. The 30-day special session must end at midnight Tuesday, and many state officials believe it will be difficult to meet that deadline.

Republicans said the budget doesn’t go far enough to rein in state spending practices.

“It’s not sustainable without the reforms,” said Rep. Gary Alexander, R-Olympia. “It detracts from the negotiations process.”

The Senate could vote on the budget as early as today if its members can reach agreement on several reforms, said Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, the chairman of that chamber’s budget committee.

Those include possible changes to medical insurance offered to public school employees, changes to state pension systems to close some early retirement options for new workers and elimination of the requirements to release classroom sizes established in Initiative 728.

The initiative passed in 2000 with a 72 percent approval from voters, but without any specific tax or funding mechanism. “When you don’t pass revenue connected with (an initiative) it’s hard to make it a reality,” Murray said. Other reforms should do more to improve public education, he added, and that dropping I-728 appears to have support of both parties in both chambers.

“If we can get our agreements by Friday, we can get done by Tuesday,” he said.

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