GOP-crafted budget passes state Senate

OLYMPIA — The state Senate passed a Republican-crafted budget early Saturday that fills a shortfall by spending less on human services, education programs and retiree pensions, sending less to cities and counties and not raising any general taxes.

On a 25-24 vote, the Senate approved the plan combining fund transfers and $773 million in cuts to rebalance the current budget and leave $501.5 million in reserves.

The final vote at 12:45 a.m. ended an hours-long uprising triggered when three conservative Democrats mutinied and joined Republicans to push through the spending plan.

Democrats hold a 27-22 edge on Republicans but the defection of Sens. Rodney Tom of Medina, Jim Kastama of Puyallup and Tim Sheldon of Potlatch enabled minority party leaders to run the political table.

What happens next remained unclear Saturday as tired senators tried to get their groove back and representatives pondered the next steps in striking a budget deal so lawmakers can go home.

House Democrats, who own a 56-42 advantage on Republicans, already passed a budget and had been prepping for final negotiations with their Senate counterparts.

The triumph of Senate Republicans added an unexpected wrinkle. House leaders said Friday night and Saturday they aren’t rushing to chat with the GOP authors.

Both chambers adjourned before dinner Saturday and are taking Sunday off. When they return Monday there will be only four days left in the regular session.

Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and the chamber’s lead budget writer, suggested Monday might be the soonest for folks from each chamber to begin crunching numbers.

“This is a big change. We’re going to take a look at it. Right now I don’t know what’s in it,” Hunter said early Saturday afternoon. “I’ve got to understand what’s in it.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Joseph Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, the architect of the Republican budget, said Saturday he’s ready to begin talks on a compromise bill.

“Once everybody cools down a little bit they’ll understand that we need to get something out and at this point now that it is the responsibility of all of us to find a way home together,” he said. “We’ve presented a proposal that comes from our perspective in a bipartisan way and there is a way to work out a difference.”

Zarelli’s budget trims state spending far more than the House Democrats’ proposal.

The single largest area of savings comes in human service programs. He tallied $311 million in spending reductions of which $202 million are tied to cutbacks in the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families and Working Connections Child Care programs.

Another piece, $41 million, comes from eliminating one of the Democrats’ favored programs, Disability Lifeline, which provides health care and other services for unemployable adults not eligible for federal aid.

The GOP budget pares $183 million in compensation costs with most of that achieved by not making a $133 million payment into the public employees, teachers and school employees’ retirement systems.

Other cuts include $44 million to elementary and secondary school programs of which $17 million is saved by cutting bonuses to national board certified teachers in half.

Zarelli’s budget does not rely on delaying $405 million in payments to public schools as does the House Democrat proposal. And his reserves are $501.5 million compared to the $454 million in the House.

Zarelli said he hopes negotiations on a compromise budget will involve the governor and the House and Senate leaders of both parties.

But that wasn’t going to happen this weekend.

Gov. Chris Gregoire, a Democrat, met Saturday morning with House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle and Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, to consider the next steps.

“We decided to not decide anything right now,” Brown said, adding senators would focus on bills dealing with jobs and transporting and “everything but the budget for awhile.”

Marty Brown, the governor’s budget director and a veteran of Capitol politics, seemed unsure of how quickly the emotion stirred by the events in the Senate can dissipate and lawmakers get back on track.

“We’re kind of going an hour at a time,” he said early Saturday. “Both sides want to get back to some semblance of normalcy. I don’t know how that happens yet.”

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com

On the Net

Details on the proposed budgets can be found online at http://leap.leg.wa.gov/leap/default.asp

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