Gregoire’s budget hangs in balance

Tomorrow, Gov. Christine Gregoire will propose how she wants to budget and spend billions of dollars on Washingtonians these next two years.

The budget plan will be a book, hundreds of pages long with scores of numbers and dozens of charts.

Expect to read of layoffs of managers and raises for workers. Programs will be cut, trimmed or expanded. While pension payments may be deferred, funding for mental health and higher education will not.

The estate tax is gone today but she may propose its return tomorrow and suggest the need for another tax or two – maybe tobacco, maybe booze, maybe Botox.

Cheers and jeers will echo through the Capitol. At the same time, Democratic leaders will begin calculating whether they have the majority of votes in the Legislature for success.

That’s no problem in the House of Representatives, where Democrats rule with a 55-43 margin. It’s dicier in the Senate. Though there are 26 self-proclaimed Democrats and only 25 votes are needed, not all the “Ds” are true blue.

Sen. Tim Sheldon, who started Democrats for Dino Rossi, is being penciled in as a “no” vote along with every Republican.

That leaves them to focus on two wild cards: senators Marilyn Rasmussen and Jim Hargrove. Concern is that these two moderates might want more than their party can give them.

In 2003 and 2004, Rasmussen and Hargrove each voted for budgets written by Senate Republicans, who were then in the majority.

So what will it cost to lock in their party allegiance this time?

Answering that question will determine what Gregoire and Democrats add in and subtract out of the final version of the budget.

“I’m not high maintenance,” Rasmussen said Friday.

She backed the Republican budgets because they funded an autism center at the University of Washington branch campus in Tacoma. The issue is personal: one of Rasmussen’s 19 grandchildren is autistic.

Rasmussen wants $825,000 for staffing of that center for the next two years. She’s been told the money will be in the Senate Democratic budget that Ways and Means Chairwoman Sen. Margarita Prentice rolls out March 28.

“If it isn’t, she’s wasting her time,” said Rasmussen, a rancher and 19-year lawmaker.

Hargrove, a state legislator for 20 years, is known for his straight talk and independent streak. An outspoken foe of abortion, gay marriage and gun control, he fights for programs that protect children and society’s most vulnerable. And he’s willing to raise taxes to pay for them.

He voted for the Senate Republican budget because it funded the programs he most wanted protected.

This session, he’s pushing for an overhaul of the state’s treatment of children and adults with serious mental health and substance abuse problems. It’s a long-term project that doesn’t come cheap. If funds are there, his vote would likely follow.

That would add up just right for Democrats.

Reporter Jerry Cornfield’s column on politics runs every Sunday. He can be heard at 7 a.m. Monday on the Morning Show on KSER 90.7 FM. He can be reached at 360-352-8623 or

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