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Budget signing today

OLYMPIA — After about 135 days of fretting and arguing and nearly two weeks of perusing, Washington's 2011-13 Operating Budget and Capital Budget are set to be signed this afternoon.

Gov. Chris Gregoire has an official signing ceremony at 2:30 p.m. for the budgets and some other bills passed in the closing hours of the special session. She could line-item veto parts of the bills — some folks are urging her to knock the emergency clause out of a proposal to seek bids on getting the state out of the wholesale liquor distribution biz, under the theory that voters may get a chance to take the state completely out in November, and there's no real emergency here. She's also being asked to veto cuts to the performance audit system.

Initiative entrepreneur Tim Eyman has promised (threatened?) to attend. In past years, he's stood behind the governor and made thumb's down gestures, or scarfed up several "signing" pens, even though he's been opposed to the specific bill being signed.

Good times…

WA Lege Day 74: New workers comp bill in works. House budget coming next week?

OLYMPIA — An attempt to breathe life back into efforts to revise the state's workers compensation system will be released late today or Friday by the governor's office — a new bill that tries to find savings to help make the system solvent, Gov. Chris Gregoire said.

What it won't have, she said, is a provision for "compromise and release" a change much desired by business and much loathed by organized labor. A bill with that change, which passed the Senate weeks ago, is bottled up in the House Labor and Workforce Development Committee, and isn't likely to see the light of day.

Republican House leadership believes they could pass that bill if they could get it to the floor. Democrats say they couldn't, and Gregoire said she's not taking any chances.

Her new bill will have a provision for voluntary settlements for workers over age 55, along with a freeze of cost of living adjustments and offsets of workers comp payments with Social Security, and a Rainy Day fund system, she said. But no compromise and release.

"I'm not willing to risk…it fails and we have nothing and go home," Gregoire said.

The Legislature has one month left in its regular session, and still has not produced a comprehensive budget in either house to address the 2011-13 biennium and a projected $5 billion shortfall between money expected to come in and money that would have to be spent for existing programs.

Gregoire said she's been told a spending plan from the House, which takes the lead this year on budget writing, should be released early next week. She's been told it will not propose an increase in gambling to increase state revenue. If any legislator has such an idea, "they need to tell me…because there are real legal issues associated with the tribes."

The state and many of the tribes have gaming compacts that define what each can offer in the way of gambling.

Museum directors: Don’t put us in mothballs

OLYMPIA – The proposed state budget would “mothball” the Museum of Arts and Culture in Spokane and another facility in Tacoma, shutting out the public and possibly running afoul of federal law on Native American artifacts, a legislative panel was told Thursday.

Directors of the Northwest MAC and the State History Museum in Tacoma said Gov. Chris Gregoire’s budget plan for 2011-13 cuts them back so severely that they cease most operations other than warehousing their collections.

“We wouldn’t continue to exist,” said David Nicandri, director of the Washington State Historical Society which operates the 16-year-old Tacoma museum.

The MAC wouldn’t have a large enough staff to open its exhibits or its archives to the public, director Ron Rector said. That would close off one of Spokane’s top three tourist attraction, Eastern Washington’s main art museum and the largest collection of Columbia Plateau Indian artifacts outside of the Smithsonian Institution, he said.

More groups pan Gregoire budget

OLYMPIA — Reaction to Gov. Chris Gregoire’s proposed 2011-13 budget continues to come in from groups who don’t like parts of it.

It balances the budget on the backs of toddlers. — Washington State Association of Head Start and ECAP.

Endangers families across the state. — Poverty Action Network.

Complete statements can be found inside the blog.

Thumbs down, thumbs up on Gregoire budget

OLYMPIA — Reaction to Gov. Chris Gregoire’s budget was swift Wednesday as some of her normal alliles is social service groups and progressive circles denounced it while Republicans gave it qualified favorable reviews.

Fellow Democrats tried to praise her for the effort of compiling a budget that cut $4.6 billion over two years with committing to any of it.

State workers represented by Service Employees International Union, who care for seniors and the developmentally disabled, gathered outside the governor’s office to protest the cuts to key social service programs. They clustered around the exits to the office with empty wheel chairs in which they placed signs predicting the kinds of injuries and problems patients could suffer because of the cuts.

Karen Washington, who works for Chesterfield Services home care in Spokane, said workers who are already struggling to make ends meet, will have their wages and benefits cut, too. In the end, many patients who are able to remain in their homes or with family because of state services will wind up in more expensive settings like nursing homes and hospitals because of the cuts, she said.

Asking the sick and disabled to shoulder so much of the state’s budget problems “is not only not fair, it’s immoral,” Washington said.

Read more reaction inside the blog.