State budget impasse could be breaking up

"The Legislature's state budget standoff could be nearing an end, since House Republicans over the last week softened their stance on a $22.8 billion operating budget primarily authored by Senate Democrats.We are cautiously optimistic, said Senate Majority Floor Leader Betti Sheldon, D-Bremerton, from her Olympia office on June 14. We heard we could receive the budget from the House today, tomorrow or Monday.I think maybe (House lawmakers) are finally getting off the dime and we're getting something to work with, added Sheldon, who also sits on the senate Ways and Means committee. Until late last week, House Republican leaders stood firm against the Senate budget strategy, saying the spending plan was not sustainable.The truth is we can't maintain the level of spending the Senate has proposed with the revenues we have, said Rep. Barry Sehlin, R-Oak Harbor, who is also the co-chair of the House Appropriations Committee. This budget is a tax increase waiting to happen.Some suggest the Legislature has felt pressured to ensure approval of a state operating budget by June 30, which marks the end of the two-year budget cycle. One fear is that, without a budget in place, the state can't continue to operate.House co-speaker Clyde Ballard, R-Wenatchee, announced at a recent news conference that, unless a state budget is passed soon, no one wins and many citizens would be unhappy as a result. We were ready to vote on it today and co-speaker Ballard has told the governor, the senate and his fellow co-speaker that we Republicans would provide them the vote needed to put the issue at rest, said Rep. Bev Woods, R-Populsbo, last Thursday. Woods plans to vote against the spending plan when the chance to do so arrives. The Senate budget, while it may do many things, the one thing that it does do is hurt the taxpayers and citizens of the state because it not a sustainable budget, she said. For instance, the budget spends one-time money out of a pension fund for ongoing expenses.Woods objects to the budget on several other points, including the assertion the senate budget exceeds the House proposal by $90 million.We also expect to have the caseload forecasts for K-12 enrollment and other things tomorrow, said Woods. We were told in caucus that forecast would add an additional $32 million, which isn't included in the budget right now.The Senate already passed its version of the state budget on a bi-partisan 28-15 vote last Friday, June 8. Final action on the budget could come next week.The Senate-approved $22.8 billion state operating budget for 2001-2003 would, among other things, give teachers and state employees 3.7 percent raises this fall. By next year, teachers would receive another 3.1 percent and state employees another 2.6 percent.The budget would also provide home-care workers with a raise of 50 cents an hour and spend $125 million from closed pension reserves. The budget would dip into more than $400 million from the state's rainy day fund, leaving a grand total of $1.4 billion in reserve accounts. The logjam on the state operating budget, which pays for everything from schools, jails and healthcare, has mired the Legislature into its second 30-day special session this year. "

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