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Originally published December 9, 2009 at 4:57 PM | Page modified December 9, 2009 at 7:01 PM

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Gov. Gregoire's state budget has merit

The Seattle Times editorial board welcomes Gov. Chris Gregoire's proposed supplemental budget despite the deep cuts it imposes, though the board does not accept the proposed end to levy-equalization money for public schools.

THOUGH Gov. Chris Gregoire does not like her no-new-taxes state budget, and would buy back some of the cuts with taxes, the budget has a good deal of merit in it. Perhaps we like it more than she does. We cannot accept all the cuts in it, but then again, there are others we would make.

The cuts the governor has not made, but should, are in raises and health-care benefits for state employees. They have already lost cost-of-living increases, which weren't much anyway, but about one-third of employees still get "step" increases. These should be frozen. When the state is cutting money for schools, hospitals, kindergarten and everything else, it cannot afford any raises.

Nor can it afford to keep to the formula that employees pay only 12 percent of medical premiums. That percentage needs to rise to 20 percent, a figure still well below that of the private sector.

For two-thirds of state employees, both of these matters are covered by union contracts that Gregoire signed but the Legislature has not funded. The Legislature should insist they be renegotiated. The governor should make it clear that the fruit of a lawsuit will be much deeper layoffs. This is an emergency.

The proposed cut the governor would buy back, and that we would, too, is in levy-equalization money for public schools. This is money that keeps a minimum level of schooling in property-poor districts. This page has long believed that the first and best social program is education.

There are other cuts we would buy back, but many will have to be accepted. State government as constituted today is more than the people can afford.

Gregoire is making money-saving reforms in the prisons by moving inmates from old, inefficient prisons to newer ones. Other reforms should be started, though the immediate savings might be small.

The state liquor monopoly needs to be ended, replaced by a tax that will raise as much or more than the current monopoly profits. The state needs to start using its authority to contract out routine work, such as maintenance in the state universities.

The governor's budget is a good start to a difficult conversation.

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