Legislative Republicans on Tuesday went public with a compromise state budget they put together behind closed doors, infuriating minority Democrats and raising the specter of a veto by Democratic Gov. Gary Locke.
The only compromising was among House and Senate Republicans, the Democrats said Tuesday night in urging Locke to reject the $19 billion, two-year spending plan when it hits his desk later in the week.
Locke said he was disappointed that his budget director and the legislative Democrats weren’t consulted, but stopped far short of threatening a veto.
The biggest differences are in health insurance coverage for the working poor - the Republicans want to cap it at the current 130,000 clients - and in welfare, education and in funding of the workforce training program.
The budget, the No. 1 task of the Legislature, suddenly sprang to life Tuesday when Republican budget chairmen from the House and Senate unexpectedly convened the first - and only - meeting of the budget conference committee.
Typically, that is the public venue for lengthy, often heated, negotiations over ways to iron out differences between the budget proposals previously adopted by the two houses. Not this year. With Republicans in control of both chambers, GOP negotiators made their all-in-the-party agreements among themselves and presented them to the full panel.
The strategy also meant that negotiations were not conducted in open session with the public and press allowed to observe.
Both houses are tentatively set to vote Thursday, leaving Locke with five days to decide whether to sign or veto. Democrats said they consider the GOP plan “veto-bait” and urged Locke to veto it.
“I would hope he would veto it so we can continue our conversations” and get some Democratic ideas incorporated, said the Senate Democrats’ ranking budget committee member, Harriet Spanel of Bellingham.
“It would seem a likely candidate for veto to me,” agreed her House counterpart, Helen Sommers, D-Seattle.
But Senate budget Chairman James West, R-Spokane, and House appropriations Chairman Tom Huff, R-Gig Harbor, said Locke had heavy input and that at least 30 of his 164 suggestions were incorporated.
Legislative Democrats were able to make requests informally, Huff said. Added West, “It’s not like they had great input, but it’s a helluva lot better than we got in 1993” when Democrats, including then-House Appropriations Chairman Locke, were in charge of both houses.
Republicans said voters installed their party as the majority in both houses, that it will be GOP votes that send the budget to the governor and that it should bear their ideological stamp of fiscal conservatism and a strong commitment to education.
The proposal splits the difference between the Senate’s original budget plan and the counteroffer of the more conservative House. The new level, $19.045 billion, is down $52 million from the Senate and up $51 million from the House.
But perhaps more significantly, the Republican budget is $193 million below the level requested by the governor.
The proposal is about $136 million below the maximum allowed under the Republicans’ calculation of the state spending lid.
Depending on the size of the remaining tax-relief package, the plan would leave between $486 million and $515 million as a reserve fund.
xxxx Budget highlights Associated Press Here are highlights of legislative Republicans’ proposed state budget: Total: $19.045 billion for the two years beginning July 1. This is $52 million below the Senate’s budget proposal, $51 million above the House plan and $193 million below Gov. Locke’s spending request. Current budget is $17.7 billion. Tax cut: Budget assumes between $373 million and $402 million in property, business and other assorted tax cuts. Locke supports some of the cuts, but wants property-tax relief focused on homeowners, not all classes of property owners. Reserves: At least $486 million. Spending limit: $136 million below limit imposed by Initiative 601. Biggest winners: Public schools and colleges, and pay raises for teachers, professors and state workers. Biggest losers: Basic Health Plan for working poor is capped at current enrollment, with new co-pays; some school programs. Next: Four Republican leaders will sign the plan today. Votes tentatively scheduled for both houses on Thursday. Governor will have five days to sign or veto all or part.
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