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Senate budget writers agree: No education cuts

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By Mike Baker
Associated Press
OLYMPIA -- Top budget writers in the Senate are now in agreement that the state's spending can be balanced without cutting education, as a Republican-led coalition touted its vision Thursday to overhaul pension rules.
Senate and House budget writers have been unable to broker a final budget agreement, and Republican Sen. Joe Zarelli said the latest proposal was designed to find some common ground. Democrats had balked at an initial Republican-led budget plan that would have cut some $43 million from K-12 education and $30 million from higher education.
"What we've tried to do is draft a compromise approach here," Zarelli said.
Democratic Sen. Ed Murray said he was pleased to see the Republican budget move in their direction, as his initial plan also avoided cuts to education, and he called the remaining differences "clearly resolvable." The Democratic proposal did so by delaying a payment to schools by one day into the next biennium -- an accounting maneuver the GOP dislikes.
Republicans acknowledged that they had not shown the budget to Democrats even though both sides have been meeting to try and find an agreement.
"The governor's had them in their office again and again and again," Murray said. "And as of yesterday they did not tell her they were writing a budget and they were unwilling to make any offers to her, so this is a little bit of political games going on here."
The revised proposal released Thursday relies heavily on changes to the state pension system, such as skipping a $140 million payment. That is offset in the long term by ending early retirement for future state employees.
The new plan also keeps less money in reserves, leaving $440 million. It includes more cuts to social services than the Democratic approach.
Republicans are also pushing several structural changes to state government, including a requirement that budgets be balanced over a four-year period and a consolidation of health insurance plans for education employees. They also want passage of a charter schools bill that Democrats largely oppose.
The budget plan has the support of three Democrats, providing the GOP enough votes to pass the measure through the Senate. Democratic Sen. Jim Kastama said the new plan takes the previous bipartisan bill and makes it better.
"We've proved the cynics wrong when it comes to putting partisan politics ahead of our duty to govern," Kastama said.
Story tags » State politics

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