Bipartisan approach to budget good for Washington

Local lawmakers, all members of the minority party, had more input into the process. That's a welcome change.

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Local legislators -- Sen. Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, Rep. Maureen Walsh, R-College Place, and Rep. Terry Nealey, R-Dayton -- are generally pleased with the results of the recently concluded legislative session.

Lawmakers spent nearly five months in Olympia focused on trimming spending requests to bridge the more than $5 billion gap between predicted revenue and anticipated expenses.

In the end, the $32 billion budget was balanced -- at least for now -- with $4.6 billion in cuts to spending requests. Lawmakers left $700 million untouched in case the next revenue forecast is lower than expected, which could certainly occur as the economy continues to sputter.

The current forecast for the 2011-2013 budget anticipates the state taking in about $4 billion more than the past two years. If that is to occur, the economy has got to pick up significantly -- and quickly.

Nevertheless, lawmakers have patched the budget for now. Social services are going to see an increase in spending -- much of it mandated -- while higher education will take a significant hit, meaning much of the lost revenue will have to be made up with higher tuition.

Local lawmakers, all Republicans, met with the Union-Bulletin Editorial Board last week. They said they were pleased that their party's leaders were allowed to play a significant role in putting together the budget and establishing state policy related to budget matters.

The GOP influence was stronger in the Senate where Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, formed an alliance with Hewitt --the Senate Republican leader -- to force compromises with House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle.

Hewitt was among the four top lawmakers who met in marathon closed-door sessions with Gov. Chris Gregoire to hammer out the final details of the budget deal.

Hewitt said the sessions were intense and exhausting but he was pleased the Republican perspective did influence the final budget. The spending plan was more moderate than previous budgets and built on compromise

While Hewitt, Walsh and Nealey weren't thrilled with making cuts to higher education or other worthy state programs, he is happy this budget actually spends less than the anticipated revenue. Hewitt said this is the first budget since the late 1990s to take this conservative spending approach.

Gregoire, too, was pleased lawmakers worked together. Last week, speaking to an audience of technology executives in Vancouver, Wash., she gave the Legislature an "A" grade for making strides in reforming state government.

The state's budget problems are not yet in the rear-view mirror. However, the bipartisan approach and pragmatic thinking (preparing for a grim budget forecast) is a positive sign for the state's future.

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