Senate GOP jumps gun, offer no-new-taxes budget
By DAVID AMMONS
OLYMPIA, WA (AP) -- Senate Republicans, impatient with slow-moving Democrats in the House, broke protocol and offered up a no-new-tax state budget Tuesday.
The $22.8 billion spending plan for the next two years uses many of the proposals first offered by Democratic Gov. Gary Locke, including a wage freeze for most public employees, layoff of several thousand state workers, reductions in health coverage and a variety of cuts in government overhead.
The Senate plan does restore some of the governor's proposed health and social service cuts, including adult dental care for some poor people. It also restores some of the enrollment slots for the state-subsidized health insurance program.
The Senate also softens Locke's plan to suspend two voter-approved education initiatives, one mandating annual raises for teachers and the other financing class-size reduction and other local school improvements.
The Senate GOP offers salary increases for teachers in their first seven years of service, as well as for all non-teaching school employees, like cooks and janitors, but no general increase for all teachers.
College professors and state employees would get no general pay boost. Locke's budget plan offered no public employee pay raises.
The Senate proposal also ramps up state funding for class-size reduction in the second fiscal year of the new budget cycle. Locke wants to freeze appropriations at the current level.
Under ordinary protocol, it's the House's turn to start the budget process this year. But majority Democrats are finding it difficult to agree on the right mix of spending cuts and new revenue.
Senate budget Chairman Dino Rossi, R-Sammamish, said the Senate had no such internal debate, and thus was able to pull together its proposal first.
"I've said from the beginning that it's possible for the state of Washington to live within its means and I think this budget does that," he said. "We did have to make some tough choices, but in the end, I believe we've managed to protect our most vulnerable citizens while improving on Gov. Locke's proposal in many areas."
Rossi told a news briefing, "The goal is to balance the budget and improve on the governor in every category and still not raise taxes. We have accomplished that in this budget."
The Legislature is in the 12th week of a 15-week regular session, and Rossi said time is running out. The House Democrats have twice delayed rolling out their budget, he said.
"We felt we should come forward and get the dialogue going," Rossi said.
He said he gave the House and Senate Democratic budget leaders advance notice so they wouldn't be "out in the cold."
House budget Chairwoman Helen Sommers, D-Seattle, said she doesn't particularly mind the Senate going first.
"I don't stand on protocol," she said.
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